Task force outlines use of $800K grant to reduce opioid-related fatalities

  • Opioid use statistics and trends are discussed by attendees at the HEALing Communities Data Walk held at the John W. Olver Transit Center on Wednesday evening in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • From left, Rachel Katz, nurse practitioner and director of addiction services at the Community Health Center of Franklin County, and Jane Carpenter, community data manager at Boston Medical Center, talk with attendees at the HEALing Communities Data Walk held at the John W. Olver Transit Center on Wednesday evening in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2022 5:59:39 PM

GREENFIELD — The Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region organized two events this week to share with the community how it is using a nearly $800,000 grant to invest in strategies to reduce the number of opioid-related fatalities in the region.

Data walks were held at the North Quabbin Recovery Center in Athol early Tuesday afternoon and at the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield on Wednesday evening to offer information about how the opioid epidemic is affecting the area and how to combat it. Roughly 20 people attended Tuesday’s event and nine showed up at the transit center’s William B. Allen II Meeting Room.

“Without good information, it’s hard to make good decisions about how to invest resources,” Debra McLaughlin, the task force’s coordinator, said at Wednesday’s event before mentioning Tuesday’s session. “I really felt … that (it) was a very productive session. It gave folks an opportunity to engage in small groups, to really discuss the data points in more detail.”

McLaughlin explained the opioid task force is one of 16 sites participating in the National Institute of Health’s HEALing Communities Study, aimed at testing “the integration of prevention, overdose treatment and medication-based treatment in select communities hard hit by the opioid crisis.” Massachusetts is one of four states doing this work nationally, along with New York, Kentucky and Ohio.

The task force has until Dec. 31, 2023, to use nearly $800,000 in NIH money to try to reduce the region’s opioid-related death rate, with particular focus on Greenfield, Montague, Athol and Orange. This includes providing education about safer prescribing and naloxone distribution. Naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Rachel Katz, nurse practitioner and director of addiction services at the Community Health Center of Franklin County, and Jane Carpenter, community data manager at Boston Medical Center, spoke with guests Wednesday about the printed data and charts on display. According to information from the task force, approximately 2,680 naloxone kits were distributed to Greenfield, Athol, Orange and Montague residents in 2021. The vast majority of these kits were dispensed by overdose education and naloxone distribution sites and pharmacies.

Statistics also show that the number of residents in those four communities who were receiving opioid prescriptions with high risk levels for addiction decreased from 2018 to 2021.

But for all the efforts to increase the distribution of naloxone kits, Katz mentioned too much of the medication can inadvertently have adverse effects by generating in users withdrawal-like symptoms like vomiting, sweatiness and clamminess.

“And every person who uses drugs on a regular basis or uses opioids on a regular basis, that’s the feeling they’re trying to stave off every single day,” she explained, adding that it can generate a situation in which someone who regains consciousness after an overambitious dose of Narcan immediately uses a higher-than-usual amount of opioids to avoid nasty symptoms. “So what is happening now is that folks are often requiring more than one dose of naloxone, but you should go slow.

“So you administer one dose,” Katz said. “It feels like forever, but you wait two minutes (before administering a second dose), and if you need to be doing rescue breathing, then you are also doing rescue breathing. If someone is not breathing on their own or not conscious after two minutes, you administer another dose — and, basically, just keep doing that until someone becomes conscious and/or starts breathing on their own.”

According to the task force’s statistics, 25% of the 16 drug samples the Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream (MADDS) tested from Greenfield in 2021 contained xylazine, a veterinary sedative. Katz told the Greenfield Recorder that people who use intravenous drugs cut with xylazine are developing necrosis, or tissue death, at the injection site because it was not created to be used intravenously or by humans.

Katz also stressed that fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent, has made its way into the drug supply and can be found in cocaine, generating addiction and overdoses in users who thought the narcotics they were using were opioid-free. Katz said drug cartels cut their product with fentanyl to increase profit margins.

“Fentanyl is cheap. It is dirt cheap,” she said. “The cartels are always looking to stretch their product.”

With Halloween around the corner, Katz also wanted to counteract a narrative circulating on social media. She said drug traffickers and dealers will not slip rainbow fentanyl — brightly colored pills or powder that contain the illicit drug — into children’s trick-or-treat bags.

“No one gives you their drugs for free,” she said.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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