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Worcester Seeks Funds to Combat Opiate Abuse

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


The Worcester City Council approved a measure on Tuesday to file and accept a grant from the state's Bureau of Substance Abuse Services' Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative (MOAPC) and another from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Drug-Free Communities (DFC) program.

"These grants will provide the much needed financial support to address the second of five priority issues of our Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), Behavioral Health (substance abuse prevention/ mental health)," said City Manager Michael O'Brien in a memo to the City Council. "If awarded these grants, the Division of Public Health will be a step further in the implementation of proactive CHIP initiatives relating to the prevention/reduction of substance abuse among our city's youth and adult population."

According to data from the state's Department of Public Health (DPH), between 2008 and 2010, there were an average of 3,966.7 opioid-related fatal overdoses and acute care hospital events from non-fatal opioid poisoning among Bay State residents.

In Worcester, the three-year average was 165.3 cases.

Worcester's Acting Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Michael Hirsh, said in a letter to the Council that the DFC program has the combined goals of establishing and strengthening collaboration among community groups, non-profits, and varying levels of government to reduce substance abuse among the youth population, defined as individuals 18 and under, as well as reduce community factors that can increase the risk of substance abuse, while promoting those that minimize such risks. According to Hirsh, the city is eligible to apply for up to $125,000.

"These two grant opportunities are but a starting point - but a strong, valid one to say the least," said Hirsh.

Worcester's Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), recently developed by the WDPH in conjunciton with other local organizations, identified behavioral health, including mental health and substance abuse prevention, as its #2 priority in the coming years.

Worcester received a prevention grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Bureau of Substance Abuse Services back in 2008, when opioid overdoses accounted for an estimated 29 deaths in the City, to reduce the number of such cases.

A 2011 regional youth health survey conducted in high schools in and around Worcester previously turned up some alarming data about teen drug use. According to the survey, 23.4 percent of high-school age individuals used marijuana, and 23.1 percent were offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property. Just over 1 in 10 respondents reported lifetime prescription drug use in the 9th grade, and that number nearly doubled to 18.6 precent in the 12th grade.

With regard to opioids in particular, the survey found 4.9 percent of 9th graders and 7.8 percent of 12th graders reported current opioid use, and 4.9 percent of high school students reported lifetime heroin use.


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