Action needed to combat opioid crisis

  • White pharmaceutical pills spilling from prescription bottle over American map Stuart Ritchie

Published: 5/17/2019 7:23:41 AM
Modified: 5/17/2019 7:23:29 AM

The opioid epidemic has dragged on now for about a decade, leaving behind irreparable pain and heartache. There doesn’t seem to be an immediate end in sight.

Last year, 20 people died from opioid-related deaths in this region, with six from Greenfield, five from Athol, four from Orange, two from Deerfield, two from Turners Falls and one from Ashfield, according to data from the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office and State Police. That marks a 43 percent increase over 2017 when 14 people died in Franklin County and Athol — a regional record.

The outlook for this year is also grim.

During the first three months of 2019 statewide, an average of more than five people per day have died from suspected opioid overdoses based on figures released Thursday by the state’s Department of Public Health.

To meet this challenge, Franklin County providers have adapted with comprehensive social programs such as Baystate Franklin County’s EMPOWER Program, a community-based program for women struggling with opioid use disorder during pregnancy and through birth. The program, which connects women with recovery coaches and community resources to create a support network, was created around 2012 in response to increasing rates of Franklin County babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Elsewhere, Greenfield Community College began offering intensive recovery coach training a few years ago, designed on a peer-to-peer support model. These are two of many forward-thinking programs in the region. The recovery coach model has proven to be effective.

State resources have taken notice.

Recently, representatives from the state Recovery Coach Commission, which was established last year by Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, came to Greenfield Community College and asked area residents for their input. At the event, dozens of local and regional community leaders raised concerns about barriers faced by recovery coaches, who are often in recovery themselves, in assisting others with their recovery.

These concerns include a lack of access to training in western Massachusetts; fair compensation for work; establishing a support system for the coaches and a desire for better regulation by the state. Amie Hyson, a recovery coach who works with The RECOVER Project in Greenfield, asked the commission to help coaches avoid burnout by supporting livable wages for coaches. Karran Larson, a recovery coach in the area who specifically trains the deaf, said some of her clients resort to GoFundMe fundraisers and holding campaigns on Facebook to pay for their training because there’s no support for them. Linda Sarage, the former longtime director of The RECOVER Project, said it’s vital to increase available training for recovery coaches, especially for those who might not speak English as a primary language.

Our hope is that Secretary Sudders not only listened to these advocates, who spoke from personal experiences and a place of expertise, but will take future action to create a strong support system for recovery coaches, increase the amount of training that’s offered in the region, and create better regulations, support livable wages for the recovery coach profession. In all of this, we urge the commission to work closely with Franklin County providers, who have the expertise and ambition to work toward a better future.

The opioid epidemic is not going to go away by itself.

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