By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
Opioid-related deaths have increased dramatically in recent years across the Commonwealth, and Somerville is not immune to this tragic loss of life. In 2012, 698 opioid-related deaths were confirmed in Massachusetts and that number has been steadily climbing since. Last year, 1,465 such fatalities were confirmed and another estimated 514 opioid-death confirmations are pending. In Somerville, the numbers are equally heartbreaking. The city saw an increase from 3 narcotics deaths in 2012 to 21 deaths in 2016. Again, that’s 21 lost, when even one is too many.
These trends underscore the severity of this health crisis, and each individual loss has surely caused tremendous personal suffering that we’ll never see measured by the data. But still there are signs of hope. Cities, towns, nonprofits and others are doubling down to support those struggling with addiction and prevent deadly overdoses.
Here in Somerville, our police department has been working diligently on community policing initiatives, several of which are essential to addressing addiction as the health issue it is – and not as a crime. Thirty percent of our officers have received Crisis Intervention Training, and through the COHR (Community Outreach, Help, and Recovery) Program, they work with those struggling with addiction to divert them from the criminal justice system and to get them the help they need for a successful recovery. As Chief David Fallon says, officers are taught to use arrest as a last resort in these instances.
We know that getting people that initial help is just part of the solution in combatting opioid addiction. That’s why we work to foster a successful recovery at many different stages of the process. The Recovery Coach Academy has already trained 36 volunteers so that they can support our community members through the recovery process. Additionally, in January 2017, we kicked off our Pathways to Recovery meetings, which happen once per month and aim to provide a network of support for those in recovery.
We know that addiction doesn’t just affect individuals, but also their families, friends, and loved ones. Nearly all reported overdoses happen in a residence or a place where someone feels safe, and people are usually found by a family member or significant other. So we’re working to develop better outreach methods for those impacted by a loved one’s addiction, including community support events like the Lasting Images art night held just this week.
Continuing our Take Back Initiative is another important effort that anyone can take part in. Abuse of prescription drug opioids is increasing at alarming rates, and more than half of young heroin users reported starting with prescription drugs according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That’s why there is a permanent MedReturn Drug Collection Kiosk in the lobby of the Somerville Police Department where you can dispose of unused medicine free and anonymously, 24/7. It’s better to be safe and always dispose of your extra medicine than leave around unused prescriptions.
While each of these programs and initiatives aims to help support those struggling with or impacted by addiction, we must continue to push the conversation more broadly. We must continue working to limit barriers to those seeking treatment and put an end to the stigma of addiction by talking about and addressing addiction as the illness it is. I truly believe that if we work together across all City departments and with our community partners and members, we can find ways to reverse these trends and keep our neighbors safe and healthy. Saving lives starts long before anyone dials 911.
If you are struggling with addiction, or know someone who may be, or interested in the recovery meetings, please contact Patricia Contente at 617-625-6600 ext. 7281 or by emailing email@example.com.