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A Call to Action: Leaders From Greater Lowell Collaborating To Combat Opioid Epidemic

Sep 04, 2015 04:06PM ● By Bill Gilman
(Editor's note: The following information was submitted by the Greater Lowell Health Alliance.)

Last weekend, two people died of an opiate overdose. Four more were saved by Narcan administered by Lowell police, who were equipped with the life-saving drug just two weeks ago.

These examples served to punctuate the spirit of collaboration and commitment expressed by leaders from across the Greater Lowell community on Tuesday in a Call to Action press conference co-hosted by the Greater Lowell Health Alliance and Middlesex Community College.

A group of nearly 100 members of the press and the community gathered at Lowell General Hospital’s Saints campus Tuesday morning to hear the comments of GLHA Executive Director Kerrie D’Entremont, Lowell City Manager Kevin Murphy, Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor and Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan.

The GLHA organized the event for September 1 to kick off National Recovery Month, which is followed by National Substance Abuse Prevention Month in October, during which several events related to combating substance abuse will take place across the region. 

Last year, the GLHA awarded $500,000 in grants and program assistance to the Greater Lowell Community, $200,000 of which was dedicated to substance abuse and prevention. On Tuesday, D’Entremont announced a new request for proposals for $50,000 in Community Health Initiatives Grants, which will go toward several public health priorities, including substance abuse.

“The GLHA is committed to working with our communities and substance abuse is a top priority,” D’Entremont said. “This problem is affecting all our communities and the only way we’re going to win this battle is by working together.”

District Attorney Ryan said when she spoke at the event last year, the number of overdose deaths in Middlesex County for 2014 at that point was 99. This year, the number is 131.

“The numbers are the numbers,” Ryan said, “but take one second to think about 32 people. It’s not just those 32 people. For every one of them, it’s their family, their friends, their colleagues - how big is the number being affected?”

Ryan introduced three new initiatives her office will undertake to be more proactive to prevent substance abuse: 

Working with mental health partners and police chiefs across the county to introduce a Trauma-Informed Response Program to immediately help children present during an overdose.

A program that targets young women at access points where they are open to education, particularly before, during or just after pregnancy, in response to the rising number of women struggling with addiction.

A new model of drug court that intervenes at the very beginning stages of addiction.

“We cannot do this alone, and that’s why this gathering is so important,” Ryan said. “It represents recognition of that need we have for each other and the need we have to take what we have learned so far in this work, look forward and do the next phase of that work.”

Murphy, the Lowell City Manager, praised the combined efforts of agencies across Lowell and Middlesex County for their commitment to combating opioid abuse.

“It’s only by all of us working together, not just in the City of Lowell but the Greater Lowell area,” Murphy said. “So I ask all of you to join with us in combatting this scourge in our society and rid substance abuse.”

Superintendent Taylor of the Lowell Police Department also stressed the need to work together.

“Clearly we cannot do this alone,” Taylor said. “We need the police and the community to collaborate together. We need to be able to identify and eliminate this problem, and evidence shows that collaboration between police and civilians who live in our community has success in ridding our community of drugs.”

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