Can opioid addiction be stopped before it starts?

  • FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. A report released Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill finds that companies selling some of the most lucrative prescription painkillers funneled millions of dollars to advocacy groups that in turn promoted the medications’ use. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, contributed the most money to the groups, funneling 4.7 million to organizations and physicians from 2012 through last year, according to the report. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File) Toby Talbot

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/6/2018 9:40:10 PM

GREENFIELD — Can those who are fighting the current opioid epidemic in the region get ahead of the problem by intercepting at-risk people before they develop an addiction?

That strategic shift is at the heart of a new report by the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin as it tries to flip the traditional model of treating the problem after it takes root.

“As far as I know, no one in the state has done this yet,” Peggy Vezina, coordinator for the Intercept Zero Project said at a meeting Friday.

“What if the community could intervene earlier and prevent people from arriving at that crisis point?” the Intercept Zero report poses.

The goal? Figure out how to address the opioid epidemic at its core, focusing on three entry points: families and individuals; community, schools and social services; and health, behavioral health and treatment services.

“However, this report is not about improving services for individuals already years into life-altering substance use and/or mental health disorders,” the report’s findings section reads. “It is about preventing such catastrophic fallout from occurring in the first place. This means identifying young people who are most at risk of developing substance use disorder/mental health problems, and stepping in early with targeted evidence-based prevention and intervention efforts.”

The idea stemmed from the task force’s original efforts in 2014 to map out in the community how the epidemic was affecting residents and how to best address the issues that were a part of that. A couple years later though, the task force, led by Vezina, moved to figure out what were the root causes — and how to address them.

From October 2016 to March 2017, the project interviewed about 230 people and used a variety of research methods to figure out what were the biggest issues locally. On May 5, a community forum was held to map out all of the issues in more depth, which also drew political leaders, like state Reps. Paul Mark, Stephen Kulik and Susannah Whipps, plus state Sens. Stan Rosenberg and Adam Hinds.

The report, which is now being used by local agencies devoted to helping out with the opioid epidemic, came up with 12 priority recommendations of how to get to this “intercept zero.”

“We’re always trying to figure out what to do, so we don’t have to rebuild the wheel every time,” Vezina said. “What I pulled out of this is: relationship, relationship, relationship. That’s what people are looking for.”

The forward of the report — written by co-chairs Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan, Register Franklin County Probate John Merrigan, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, as well as Executive Director of Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin regions Claire Higgins — further addresses the main issues.

“The stories of hardship and resilience they shared offer a glimpse into the struggles of many of our Franklin County neighbors, and insight into lived experience with the health, human services, and criminal justice systems,” the report reads.

One of the data points the project jumped off showed 85 percent of 178 individuals incarcerated in the Franklin County House of Correction in 2014 struggled with either mental health and substance misuse issues.

The idea is to move forward with this report both with the Opioid Task Force and then even more focused in individual organizations.

Vezina hopes the report can be used to help shape the works of the many groups in the county that focus on these issues without them having to start at ground zero. She encourages people who want to know more about it to reach out to her at her email,


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