After cuts, state almost restores Opioid Task Force funding

  • The Opioid Task Force held a public meeting at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew in Greenfield in June offering formerly incarcerated individuals information on securing a home. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and North Quabbin’s Coordinator Debra McLaughlin. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2019 12:07:39 AM
Modified: 8/2/2019 12:07:27 AM

After its funding was cut in half last year, the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and North Quabbin received $300,000 in fiscal year 2020, up from $200,000 last year — but not as much the year before, when it received $400,000.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed the state budget Wednesday, finalizing efforts by local legislators to reverse last year’s funding dip.

The funding arrives as opioid-related overdose deaths in the region continue to climb, taking the lives of 30 Franklin County and North Quabbin residents last year — up from 12 in 2017 and 13 in 2016. While the cause of the opioid epidemic was initially prescription pain medication, it has now moved to more potent, deadly versions sold on the street: heroin and fentanyl.

Task force leaders County Sheriff Christopher Donelan and Family Court Register of Probate John Merrigan expressed gratitude to legislators for the funding allocation.

But Merrigan conceded that the amount is still $100,000 shy of fiscal 2018’s state allocation.

Last year, after the funding cuts, the task force “only had just enough money to cover all the salaries,” Donelan said, for its one full-time employee and two part-timers. It was unable to give readily to community non-profits, as it usually does, Merrigan added.

“It’s really unnerving for our staff. These people live budget year to budget year, and you start to wonder if your job is next,” Donelan said. “It feels like we’re running at full steam again.”

Donelan said the funding would enable the task force to “really invest” in some “neighborhood-level programs and initiatives” that seek to help anyone impacted by the opioid epidemic. The task force gives funding and resources to regional non-profits and programs like The RECOVER Project, a new women’s recovery housing project, public school education courses and more.

The reason for last year’s funding cut was partly due to the abrupt resignation of state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg in May last year, Merrigan explained. Franklin County’s vacant Senate seat left the task force with limited representation during budget debates, resulting in the state cutting its allocation in half.

With the arrival of several new Franklin County legislators, the task force received more representation and support this year. State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, led efforts to secure $300,000 for the task force, both calling the coalition’s work innovative and vital to the community.

“Because it went down to $200,000 last year, there was really an urgency for myself and my new members to get that back up to the level that we thought it needed,” Mark said.

Mark added that he hopes the money will allow the task force to “get out the full programming” and “supplies” like naloxone to local residents.

Comerford expressed similar satisfaction with the funding allotment, describing the task force as “the backbone of live-saving regional efforts to battle the epidemic and help.”

She added that she hopes the funding will strengthen the task force and in turn, improve the lives of people in the community.

“The hope is that it will go toward making real people’s lives better and easier and the Opioid Task Force more able to do so,” Comerford said. “The hope is it would go to strengthen an invaluable entity that is charged with helping real people weather the epidemic.”

Reach Grace Bird at gbird@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.




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