As the number of drug overdose deaths in the Commonwealth continues to rise, members of the Opioid Crisis Working Group created by Governor Charlie Baker gathered this past Tuesday, March 10th at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester for the first of four public listening sessions. Hosted by Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, over 400 people attended the event which was designed to gather feedback and ideas on the best ways to halt the current epidemic.
“Today’s Opioid Listening Session in Worcester provided an important opportunity to have an open dialogue about the current opioid crisis. Citizens from across the county and the Commonwealth attended today’s forum, we heard from many community members as well as families whose lives have been impacted in some way by addiction. I am hopeful today’s discussion will help to provide crucial initiatives that will halt this epidemic.” said Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis.
“In order to formulate solutions, we need to understand the depth of this devastating problem that is affecting families, friends and neighbors across the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services and Chair of the Working Group Marylou Sudders. “Today we had a chance to hear directly from those impacted by this issue.”
Governor Baker announced the 17-member Working Group on February 19th. The Group is comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experience related to prevention, intervention, treatment, recovery and support and law enforcement. By the end of May, the Group will submit a statewide strategy to combat opioid addiction and curb overdose deaths.
“Today in Worcester, we heard from community members, first responders, local leaders and families struggling with the devastating impacts of addiction. This event was yet another powerful example that the disease of addiction does not discriminate – it affects everyone from high school athletes to successful college students and mothers with young children,” AG Maura Healey said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this unprecedented public health epidemic, and we are committed to working together with partners across the state to attack this crisis head on.”
Records from the Department of Public Health show there were 978 opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts in 2013 – that’s a 46 percent jump from the previous year. In Worcester County alone, 29 people have suffered fatal overdoses since January.
“Sadly, with the current trends in opioid addiction there will be few families who are untouched by this epidemic within five years. As Sheriff, I see firsthand the devastating impact these addictions have in our communities on a daily basis,” said Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis.
Public dialogues will be held in various parts of the state with the next one scheduled for Thursday, March 19 from 4-6 p.m. in the dining common at Greenfield Community College in Greenfield. A similar listening session will take place on March 26 at Memorial Hall in Plymouth from 4-6 p.m. The final session will be located in Boston on April 2 at a time/place to be named soon. For those who cannot attend, an email box has been set up to collect comments at AddictionWorkGroup@state.ma.us. For more information about the public dialogues or the Working Group’s meetings visit www.mass.gov/opioids.