Opioid Task Force to receive $635K over two years

  • From left, Opioid Task Force Coordinator Debra McLaughlin, Franklin County Register of Probate John Merrigan, Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan, Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan and Dr. Ruth Potee, who are all members of the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2020 10:35:05 PM

The Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region has received a two-year $635,000 grant to continue its work on the opioid crisis with a focus on rural areas.

Opioid Task Force Coordinator Debra McLaughlin said the money will be used to first develop a strategic plan and then implement it.

“We’re only one of 21 sites across the country to receive this, and the only one in New England,” McLaughlin said. “We’re so excited to be among the grantees.”

McLaughlin said the local task force will be looking at how to address the opioid crisis through a “rural lens.”

“There are certain challenges, like transportation, that face a rural area like ours,” she said. “We have 30 communities that spread out over 1,000 square miles, and we have insufficient transportation.”

She said certain population densities within the area don’t qualify for competitive grants because there aren’t enough people, even though the county covers a huge area.

“We need to address new ways of solving these problems,” McLaughlin said. “We have to look at how the issues are impacting us. That requires strategic planning.”

McLaughlin said the Opioid Task Force will hire someone to coordinate the planning. She said it will be interviewing people for the position soon, and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, as administrative home for the Opioid Task Force, will lead the project and oversee that person.

The grant comes from the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program Rural Responses Initiative so that the local task force can implement its Public Health Opioid Response Initiative in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.

The local plan and implementation will include an array of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery strategies, McLaughlin said. The task force will have six months to complete the strategic planning process.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office will work closely with the task force, as well as key partners, including the Franklin Probate and Family Drug Court, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, North Quabbin Community Coalition and The RECOVER Project. Others will be invited to become part of the strategic planning process.

“Nearly 90 percent of our incarcerated population has been diagnosed with substance or opioid use disorder,” said Sheriff Christopher J. Donelan, who is also co-chair of the Opioid Task Force. “We are grateful to be part of a national conversation about how this impacts our rural communities, and what we can do to support individuals upon their release.”

Franklin County Register of Probate John F. Merrigan, who co-chairs with Donelan and Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan, said the area continues to see the “devastating impact” of opioid misuse in its courts.

“We are eager to learn and share what works to help individuals and their family members who are ensnared by their addiction,” Merrigan said.

Sullivan said data from his office continued to show a startling increase in opioid-related deaths in 2019, over what the office saw in 2018.

“We support any planning and implementation effort to reverse this troubling trend in our rural region,” Sullivan said.

The Opioid Task Force formed in September 2013, and now has more than 400 members working to reduce opioid and heroin addiction, prevent overdose deaths and improve the quality of life in the region for those suffering from addiction, as well as for their family members, friends and support systems. The task force leveraged $7,150,000 in state and federal grants between 2017 and 2018, and will continue to apply for more.

For more information about the Opioid Task Force, visit opioidtaskforce.org.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.

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