April 14, 2016
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Jarvey (508) 368-7241
WORCESTER —Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. highlighted the first-year accomplishments of the Central Mass. Opioid Task Force today in a meeting that also included a presentation on the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s innovative curriculum to train students in issues related to opioid misuse.
Mr. Early formed the Central Mass. Opioid Task Force in March 2015 in response to the crisis. Since starting the task force, the District Attorney’s Office has applied for and received about $500,000 in federal and state grants to educate the public, gather data and save lives.
He told members of the task force at its quarterly meeting yesterday at the medical school that there were 111 suspected heroin overdose deaths in Worcester County in 2015 and 24 so far this year.
“These tragic numbers show the enormity of the challenge in front of us,” Mr. Early said.
He cited the UMass program as an example of the important things being done to address the crisis.
Dr. Michele P. Pugnaire, Senior Associate Dean for Educational Affairs and Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at UMass, told Opioid Task Force members about the medical school’s first-in-the-nation curriculum to train medical and nursing students in preventing opioid misuse, safe pain management and treatment of opioid addiction.
The program was developed last fall at the request of Gov. Charlie Baker in response to the increasing number of overdose deaths in Massachusetts and the region. It is being implemented this spring.
Mr. Early said training medical students and existing doctors is necessary to reduce the prescription painkiller abuse that so often leads to heroin use and addiction.
The Opioid Task Force sponsored a SCOPE of Pain training last year to teach physicians and other health professionals about safe prescribing practices.
He also said that more needs to be done to educate the public in treating addiction as a disease and not a moral failing. Treating addiction as a disease would remove stigmas and make it easier for victims to seek and receive treatment.
Mr. Early said the task force has sponsored and/or participated in community forums around Worcester County to provide important information to residents.
The District Attorney’s Office has also held Narcan trainings for police. The fast-acting opioid antidote is now being carried by police or other first responders in just about every community in Central Mass.
The DA’s Office also has a program to reimburse police departments for Narcan as well as one to provide prescription drug drop boxes for police stations.