Mapping the gaps in North Quabbin treatment

North Quabbin panel seeks to improve ‘intercepts’ that link people with the programs they need

  • A court-sponsored service mapping session met Friday in the Orange Innovation Center with an overall vision of diverting the mentally ill and drug and alcohol abusers from jail. Recorder Staff/Chris Curtis

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/6/2016 9:55:35 PM

ORANGE — The Massachusetts court system continues to look for a better way when it comes to dealing with people with substance abuse problems and other mental health afflictions.

The Sequential Intercept Mapping program involves getting a bunch of people from law enforcement, health, addiction and mental health treatment, education and other fields around a table to compare notes and look for holes.

One such session met Friday in the upstairs function room of the Orange Innovation Center, a rehabilitated factory.

“This is a really important part of ‘treatment, not incarceration.’ You hear the politicians saying that a lot about the opioid crisis, but in order to make that a reality we have to make sure the criminal justice system is well connected to the treatment system,” said Marisa Hebble, who coordinates the program for the Executive Office of the Trial Court. Before the Trial Court, Hebble ran the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin.

The Orange District Court’s top judge, the superintendents of the Ralph C. Mahar and Athol-Royalston regional school districts, fire and police chiefs, representatives of the Department of Public Health, Department of Mental Health, Department of Children and Families and regional nonprofit service agencies were among those at the table Friday morning.

The session was closed to encourage candor, but the resulting report will be a public document. “I’m just hoping to see people step outside their comfort zones and be really honest about what they see,” said Heather Bialecki-Canning, executive director of the North Quabbin Community Coalition, which invited the mapping program.

“I think that this is a very exciting opportunity for so many different services in the community to find out about each other and to learn how we can interact and by doing so help save some lives and move some people into better places,” said Orange District Court First Justice David Ross.

Hebble said the process is aimed at finding priorities to improve and better use the existing system locally, and inform the Trial Court of local and state-wide needs. The North Quabbin session is the seventh so far, but the first of a new batch around the state spearheaded by the Trial Court in cooperation with the Department of Public Health and Department of Mental Health. A similar group convened in Greenfield last year to map ‘intercepts’ in that region. By intercepts the planners mean those points in the healthcare, educational, court, emergency services and other institutions where those institutions interact with and have the opportunity to help addicts who need it.

Franklin County Register of Probate and Family Court John Merrigan said the idea is to make people stick at those points instead of rebounding.

“We probably all know people who have bounced off every intercept five times over, 10 times over, some of them didn’t make it. In my case, I have a family member, a niece, who bounced off every single intercept for 17 years, and three and a half years ago she died of an overdose,” Merrigan said. “The idea is instead of bouncing, how do we make these intercepts so people will stick when they hit them early.”

Merrigan called the effort historic. “(For) the Trial Court to be looking at ways to divert people out of the system and stop them before they penetrate further into the system is historic in the sense that five years ago we were a system of crime and punishment,” Merrigan said, thanking the Chief Justice Paula Carey and administrator Harry Spence for their leadership in the new direction.

Lucinda Brown, who has worked in alternative court programs like the Orange and Greenfield drug courts and the restorative justice program for years, was pleased by the faces she saw in the room.

“It’s always amazing to me that the right people show up to do the right thing,” she said. “The problems change, and so will the solutions, and so even though years ago we’d done something like this, it’s all new. And what I love about North Quabbin is that it’s so collaborative that we will find answers.”

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