Last Tuesday night Senator Anthony Petruccelli hosted the first meeting of a task force that will tackle the topic of substance abuse in the neighborhood at East Boston High School. The meeting was sponsored by Petruccelli with the help of City Councilor Sal LaMattina, State Representative Adrian Madaro and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC), in a partnership with Mass General Hospital.
“The timing is right for all of us to work together,” said Petruccelli. “Everyone in this neighborhood has been touched in some way or another by substance abuse, whether it is a friend, a family member or a neighbor. This will bring stakeholders from all sectors of the community together to have a dialogue on how to best address the problems.”
The meeting opened with keynote speaker Dr. Peter Smith of the EBNHC who talk about addiction and its causes. Dr. Smith said that while the statistics seem daunting with addiction numbers increasing state and nationwide a lot can be done to curb its spread.
Dr. Smith said that the first spike in prescription painkillers started to level off in 2007 as drug manufactures began to make opioid prescription harder to abuse. However he said as those numbers tapered off the number of people abusing heroin began to spike. Dr. Smith said this was due to the widespread availability of cheap pure heroin and prescription drug abusers began to switch to heroin at this time. This also increased the number of heroin related deaths in the state both here and nationwide.
Dr. Smith said only 10 percent of addicts right now are getting the treatment that they need. He advocated for more drug beds and detox programs as well as support groups statewide to counter addiction through peer therapy and education. He also said there needs to be more use of the drug narcam, a drug that reverses a heroin overdose, across the country.
“We have come to the point in America where being trained on how and when to use narcam is as essential as learning CPR,” said Dr. Smith. “People can get narcam over the counter and can be trained on how to use it so the m,ore people we have out there with this training the more people we can save from overdoses.”
Dr. Smith also told the parents, teens and children at the meeting how to identify the signs that a loved one might be using drugs and explore treatment options. Dr. Smith also talk about the Health Center’s new community-based coalition model that will work with many sectors including local government, residents, schools, health care providers, police, youth centers, faith-based organizations, businesses and many others who have already been meeting.
EBNHC is launching its new Medication Assisted Program (MAP) earlier this year. In this community-based coalition model, the Health Center will work with many sectors including local government, residents, schools, health care providers, police, youth centers, faith-based organizations, businesses and many others who have already been meeting. Long-time Health Center employee Joanna Cataldo will be the Health Center’s lead for this new initiative, and will work very closely with MGH and other stakeholders.
Local business owner and former state rep. candidate Joe Ruggiero III told his addiction story. Ruggiero explained that he was a typical kid growing up in East Boston and one time tried a pill that a friend gave him. He said he had no idea at the time that it would lead to a several year struggle with opioid addiction. Ruggiero told the crowd that addiction can happen to anyone and it shows no mercy. He said he was from a loving family, a good home, was a good student and everything changed when he started using. He explained how he would disappear to find drugs, skip classes in high school and college and would eventually find himself in Boston’s seediest neighborhoods looking to score. He also told of his struggle to stay sober and how after several attempts at rehab he’s been sober for several years now.
However, one of the most powerful speakers of the night was East Boston Drug Court Advocate Debbie Hansco who told the story of her son’s long battle with addiction and her fight to help him stay sober. Hanscom told about his struggles with sobriety, his attempts at rehab, how he was in and out of drug court but could never manager to stay clean. While he relapsed time and time again, Hanscom’s story resonated with the crowd and how addiction does not only affect the addict but also the addicts family and friends and other loved ones. Hanscom shocked the crowd that was hoping for happy ending when she announced her son had overdosed and died. Many in the audience could not contain their tears as she too broke down at the end of her tale.
Petruccelli thanked her and commented that he could not comprehend what Hanscom had went through and the courage it takes to tell her story time and time again.
Petruccelli recently obtained funds dedicated to the development and administration of a program to prevent and treat addiction to opioid and related substances through the Health Center. The amendment allows for the closing of a service gap–ensuring councilors will now be able to cover the critical hours of night and weekend shifts with the hopes that this coverage could be the difference needed in preventing overdoses and encouraging future treatment.
Petruccelli’s budget amendment also continues the Senate’s mission to break the cycle of addiction through investments in substance abuse prevention, recovery and treatment. The Senator worked with leadership to restore $1.5 million dollars in funding fo
r substance abuse grants. The Substance Abuse Grant Program was included in last year’s budget, designated to be an innovative tool in preserving and combating substance abuse among the Commonwealth’s youth by providing a direct service program in schools. In spite of serious interest in the program, the grant was terminated through 9c cuts before the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education could finalize the grants to the winning applicants.