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Monfredo: Youth & Drug Conference - Outstanding

Saturday, December 08, 2018


A most all-inclusive program on Youth and Drugs took place last week at North High School. Sponsored by the Worcester Public Schools and under the direction of School Safety Director, Robert Pezzella the conference was a comprehensive look at what’s happening with drugs in our community.

Social agencies, school personnel, and organizations throughout Central Massachusetts were invited to the conference. The conference opened up with remarks by Superintendent Maureen Binienda and by Robert Pezzella.  The purpose of the Conference was to provide crucial support and intervention services information to attendees on teenage substance use and abuse.

According to Mr. Pezzella, “Each Conference presenter is in a community-based agency specializing in Youth and Drug Services and collaborates with the Worcester Public Schools on a regular basis…. We are in a heightened state of alert in regards to teenagers using and abusing drugs more frequently today due to the Opiate Epidemic and the recent passage of the Recreational Marijuana Law.”

Mr. Pezzella went on to say that families are being torn apart either because mothers and fathers fatally overdosed on opiates or had their children taken away from them due to neglect from drug addiction.    Community agencies, educators and treatment providers are in the front line of defense and need to remind our youth that it’s not okay to do drugs and still be able to succeed with the personal goals that they have in life. Treatment Centers in the Community are here to assist and help youth overcome this addiction.

The All-Star cast of speakers included Worcester Police Lieutenant Mike Hanlon who spoke on “Opiates and Law Enforcement,” John Genkos from the Worcester City Manager’s office on the “Update on Recreational Marijuana Law,” Kerri McCleary and Vivian Santiago from the Department of Children and Families Services on “Substance Use: DCF Supporting Youth and Families,” Stephanie Manzi from UMass Memorial Healthlink on “Motivating Youth Recovery,”  Cassandra Anderson and Nikki Nixon from the Department of Public Health, and Alyssa Richard – Figueroa a Recovery Clinician from the Rockdale Recover High School spoke on “The Rockdale Recovery High School” which is located in Worcester.

Obviously, this article could not cover the outstanding four-hour conference in one writing.  However, let me try to highlight some of the information gathered and in future writings I will add on to the information collected.  Lt. Hanlon spoke about the role of the Vice Squad and how they focus on street level dealers, mid-level retail distributors, and high-level drug traffickers.  The Opiate crisis centers on Heroin, Prescription Pills, and Fentanyl.  The statistics are staggering for in 2017 the police responded to 1,238 overdose incidents and in 2018 to date there have been 1, 158 cases of over-dosing.  That total in 2017 saw 70 fatal overdoses.

He was quick to point out that drug overdose has no social-economic boundaries nor were all drugs overdoses from Worcester.  About one-third came from outside of the city.

What are the signs of an individual who has overdosed?  They include pinpoint pupils, shallow breathing, dizziness, loss of conscientiousness, nausea/vomiting, weak pulse, cold and clammy skin, and heart failure.   

The Police Department attempts to address the drug problem from both enforcement and a public health approach.  According to Lt. Hanlon the police established a “Crisis Intervention Team…CIT” and has focused on those individuals with “co-occurring” conditions such as homelessness, drug abuse, mental illness, and victimization. The team attempts to get users into the appropriate programs and work with families in getting users into treatment.  The police department has been trained in the use of Narcan as a way of saving a life.  They now carry doses of Narcan in their cruisers.  In 2017 there were 84 incidents where the Worcester Police administered Narcan to overdose victims and it resulted in saving the life of 77 individuals.

Just recently the Worcester Police Department, in conjunction with the Worcester County District Attorney’s office, implemented a “Buyer Diversion Program.”  The goal of this program is to divert non-violent, low-level buyers of opiates into substance abuse treatment programs for the idea is to break the ongoing cycle of addiction, crime, and incarceration.  This program will enable the police to refer the individual to the program prior to formal charges being filed.  The individual will be assigned a caseworker from “Everyday Miracles” with the intent of entering into a recovery program.

At the conference Stephanie Manzi articulated the “Motivating Youth Recovery “ program  which is a 24 bed acute inpatient detoxification and stabilization program for adolescents 13 to 17(18-year-olds who can be admitted on a case by case basis).  The program operates at 26 Queen Street in Worcester on the 5th floor.  This program accepts clients from anywhere and they must qualify for a substance abuse disorder diagnosis.  They accept clients for admission 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Those needing service, call 508 860-1244.

The clinic sees a range of substances statewide from heroin to opiates to cough/cold medicine.  However, topping the list has been Marijuana, Heroin, Alcohol and opiates.  Most admissions average about 14 days, but can be longer if the patient requires medical detox, or a longer treatment.

The goal of the program is to provide a safe environment that will help the adolescent to identify and work toward their treatment and recovery goals.   Individuals are medically monitored 24 hours a day and receive a comprehensive assessment from a multidisciplinary treatment team comprised of psychiatrists, master’s level clinicians, registered nurses, case managers, and residential counselors.

This is just a little snippet about the conference and congratulations to the Worcester Public Schools for sponsoring such an important venue and working in partnership with these agencies.  According the researchers, drug overdoses, primarily from opiates, have now overtaken motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in this Nation.    We all need to be made aware of what is being done and our role as citizens.  More on this conference will be shared in future articles.


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