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  • Ben Kaplan

Senator Moran Leads Regional Roundtable on Opioid Crisis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 18, 2023 CONTACT: Ben Kaplan, Communications Director Office of Senator Susan L. Moran

Senator Moran Leads Regional Roundtable on Opioid Crisis

State funding offers opportunity to revamp local efforts

(01/18/2023 - FALMOUTH) Community advocates, healthcare experts, and first responders from across Plymouth and Barnstable County gathered in the Hermann Room of the Falmouth Public Library on Wednesday to discuss the impacts of the opioid crisis on Cape Cod and the South Shore, and collaborative strategies and programs that are being utilized.

Former Department of Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, now the CEO of the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, joined State Senator Susan L. Moran (D – Plymouth & Barnstable) in facilitating a dialogue on what individuals were seeing locally, what group initiatives were working, how the state could uplift systems that were already in place, and what tools they may need that weren’t currently available to them.

“Substance use is a multifaceted and complex issue. We need to understand what is and isn’t working,” Senator Moran said. “The goal of this roundtable is to first create a collaborative environment where we are sharing our own experiences and then seeing how we can turn these experiences into best practices to implement in our neighborhoods.”

Specifically, the Senator sought input on the effective allocation of funding and “shovel-ready initiatives” with the intention of developing recommendations for the state’s Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund Advisory Council. Established in 2020, the fund is financed primarily through pharmaceutical settlements secured by the Attorney General’s Office to expand access to substance use disorder prevention and intervention and is administered by the Secretary of Health & Human Services. Massachusetts will be receiving $500 million from an upcoming federal settlement, 60% of which will be going to the fund and the remaining amount will be distributed to individual municipalities.

As part of their work to assist towns in identifying and addressing gaps and disparities in the service system and maximizing inter-agency collaboration, Barnstable County’s Regional Substance Abuse Council (RSAC), has been providing logistical and educational support to municipal officials interested in receiving ORRF funding. RSAC has encouraged towns to establish evidence-based strategies for spending that will directly impact those with substance use disorder and their loved ones.

“We endeavor to educate and support the community through initiatives such as the ongoing comprehensive community assessment on substance use and Opioid Recovery and Remediation Funds presentation,” said Mandi Speakman, Deputy Director of the Barnstable County Human Services Department. “We’re pleased to join with regional stakeholders for this important roundtable discussion and appreciate the leadership of Senator Moran on this critical issue.”

From a public safety perspective, the roundtable found the impacts of the opioid crisis to be widespread and lasting. Detective Lieutenant Michael Glowka of the Plymouth Police Department described the difficulty of stopping the flow of drugs into their communities through a partnership with the New England Fentanyl Strike Force, while newly elected Barnstable County Sheriff, Donna Buckley spoke on her efforts to reform her department’s approach within a lens of rehabilitation.

“Our role in the public safety space, is to make sure that the people that are sent to our correction facilities do not come back,” Sheriff Buckley said. “We must think about how we perform that role. What we know is that a large percentage of our population is struggling with mental illness.”

Expanding alternative programming for substance users and diversion from the justice system were themes previously highlighted in the 192nd session, particularly the strengthening of collaboration between mental health personnel and law enforcement. In the FY23 Budget, Senator Moran successfully secured $110,000 for the Bourne and Sandwich Police Departments for the coordination of mental health response, including overdose training. The Mental Health ABC Act 2.0, passed in August, included a variety of reforms to ensure equitable access to mental health care and remove barriers to care by supporting the behavioral health workforce and expanding emergency service infrastructure, particularly in geographically isolated areas like Cape Cod.

Access is essential to what healthcare experts described as the “continuum of care,” or the idea that individuals receiving treatment for substance use must be met where they are at and provided with the resources needed to succeed from the moment they seek treatment, all the way through their own development of independence and sobriety. Dr. Traci Green, co-director of the Center for Biomedical Research on Opioids and Overdose at Rhode Island Hospital, emphasized that though individuals seeking care come from a variety of backgrounds, it is often those who are already disenfranchised, whether by economic instability or lack of housing, that are most at risk.

"The opioid crisis in Massachusetts continues to affect too many lives, too many families, and too many communities. Bold, innovative actions are needed now more than ever. I was honored to join the Substance Use Roundtable that Senator Moran hosted,” Dr. Green said. “Through exchanges with community stakeholders, researchers like myself can share about what's working and new ideas that can benefit our Commonwealth, like crisis response teams, mobile health units, pharmacy-based addiction care and community drug checking. These efforts--and the process of community collaboration to discuss and advance them--will save lives."

This was echoed by Dr. Kavita Babu, a professor of emergency medicine at UMASS Chan Medical, who presented on how we can maximize existing peer services and treatment infrastructure to reach these underrepresented prospective patients.

"We must use harm reduction principles and change the way we deliver care to people at highest risk for overdose,” Dr. Babu said. “Mobile addiction services eliminate many barriers that our patients face when seeking treatment for opioid use disorder.”

The Senator ended the day with a promise that she will continue to meet with advocates on the state and local level to explore opportunities for legislation and funding in the next year’s budget on this issue.

“I want to know how I can help you succeed, and what tools and funding I can fight for to provide you with the resources you need to do your jobs,” said Senator Moran.

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