TAUNTON, Mass. (WPRI) — The battlefield is in the mind.
The Bristol County Regional Alliance called in its associates and other community members Wednesday to compare how they’ve been fighting the battle with the vulnerable.
“The idea being, we are stronger together than we are doing our work separately,” Keith Hovan, the president and CEO of Southcoast Health and a co-chair of the Alliance, said.
The Alliance held a conference in Taunton to share ideas on preventing people from getting addicted to opioids, reducing the harm opioids are doing in Southeastern Massachusetts, and how treatment and recovery can be conducted.
The coalition is about a year old, and has grown from about 30 people at its beginning to nearly 200 having joined the mission against the addictive drugs.
“Anybody who’s got an interest in helping us battle opioids is welcome,” Hovan said, from law enforcement to health providers to even clergy members.
Last year, fatal overdoses killed 233 people in Bristol County, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III blames it on the rise of the potent painkiller fentanyl. Heroin is also a big challenge, though it’s less instantly potent; law enforcement that just comes in contact with fentanyl is at risk of debilitating, involuntary intoxication.
“It’s ruining individuals. It’s sad. It’s pathetic. That’s why this is important, to come together,” Quinn said.
Also since the inception of the group, “there’s been better coordination with law enforcement,” Hovan said. “We’ve deployed new programs that include better treatment for pregnant moms, better treatment opportunities for individuals who have overdosed, who may be homeless, or who are really eager to get into treatment.”
New Bedford to join federal anti-opioid “360” program
One significant support coming to the city of New Bedford will be their joining a new program administered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) next year entitled its “360 Strategy.” The DEA will allocate more funding to the city for the program’s three-pronged battle against drugs, according to Mark Skeffington of the Boston DEA field office. New Bedford’s DEA office will have double the number of agents (from four to eight), and will have agreements to get assistance from seven law enforcement agencies.