In response to the opioid public health emergency in Massachusetts, a four-city coalition is working together on strategies to prevent overdoses and raise awareness about prescription opioid safety.
OPEN (Overdose Prevention and Education Network) is a coalition of fire, police, health departments, and community organizations from Cambridge, Everett, Somerville, and Watertown. OPEN is funded through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and based at the Cambridge Public Health Department.
“We strongly support Governor Baker’s action plan to address the statewide opioid crisis. The disease of addiction doesn’t recognize municipal boundaries and requires action at every level,” said Tali Schiller, Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator for the Cambridge Public Health Department and facilitator of the OPEN coalition.
Governor Baker’s Action Plan to Address the Opioid Epidemic in the Commonwealth, released in June, reflects the recommendations of an 18-member expert panel appointed by the Governor. “We are pleased that OPEN’s current prevention strategies are in line with the Governor’s action plan, and we’ll be working closely with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to roll out new recommendations,” said Schiller.
Since the coalition formed in 2013, OPEN has been promoting the use of naloxone (a drug that reverses the effects of a heroin overdose), encouraging residents to safely store and dispose of medications they no longer need, and raising awareness about the Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law.
In addition, the Cambridge Public Health Department is developing an overdose surveillance system to monitor fatal and nonfatal overdoses in Cambridge. This system will assist in identifying hotspots and allow community partners to respond and allocate resources as needed. This project is funded through CHNA 17 grant from Mount Auburn Hospital.
OPEN’s accomplishments over the past year have included:
- Hosting eight Drug Take Back Days in 2014 and 2015, which collected more than 200 pounds of unused medication.
- Hosting a public forum in May 2015, “Saving Lives Together: An Opioid Community Summit.” Over 40 people from the four OPEN communities discussed youth drug use, community awareness and engagement, supporting long-term sobriety, and the role of families in the opioid crisis.
- Partnering with Learn to Cope to offer emotional support and naloxone for parents and families of people who have a drug addiction.
- Providing up-to-date information to the community about stigma, prevention, intervention, and treatment on the OPEN website, http://odprevention.org.
- Encouraging residents to safely store and dispose of medications they no longer need, including distributing literature to residents about medication safety and disposal.
- Raising awareness about the Massachusetts Good Samaritan law, which provides limited immunity from arrest or prosecution for minor drug law violations for people who call 911 when they witness an overdose.
- Distributing overdose prevention educational materials to doctors’ offices, mental health providers, homeless shelters, human services agencies, schools, and local businesses.