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WESTFORD — Westford will soon receive a share of a $26 billion in national settlements to combat substance abuse as state officials begin to make funds available.
Between 2009 through September of 2021, state records show that 18,061 Massachusetts residents died from opioid-related overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Massachusetts has a 33.9% death rate regarding drugs, which is 10.2% more than the United States average.
On Jan. 5, the Opioid Settlement Funds Task Force sent a request to town manager, Jodi Ross. The selected board recommended funding $129,997.88 to support a number of expenditures, including harm reduction, reducing barriers to treatment, substance use prevention, and mental health promotion.
Use of the funding was approved on Jan. 10 and will undergo voting on March 25, during Annual Town Meeting. Ross says she is pleased with the funding.
Further resolution with opioid over-dispensing distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal and McKesson and Johnson & Johnson are expected to bring in $525 million into Massachusetts communities, according to the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services.
Health Department aims to limit addiction, overdoses
Local Health Director Rae Dick works with all different kinds of residents on a number of health related-issues. In 2022 alone, she received a number of calls from parents and families concerned about drug and substance abuse.
DPH says opioid-related overdoses have risen 8.8% in the last 2 years. Dick hopes to reduce that number as much as possible.
The Opioid Task Force Funds proposes interventions and preventions to help. After allocation, Westford will be able to hand out fentanyl strips, Narcan, gloves, and Narcan training to all residents. In addition, The “Sandbox Initiative” will activate, providing lock boxes for any business to sell essential medical items in case of an overdose.
Nashoba Valley Technical High School and Westford Public Schools are providing social and emotional training for staff and residents in the evening as well as an educational opioid-based curriculum for students during the day.
Massachusetts has recently provided residents with a new line to call in the state of crisis or nearing crisis: 988. According to Dick, within the last year, there has been a 1000% increase in received phone calls.
Community Health and Wellness Coordinator, Nicole Lavoilette, also encourages the use of 988, as she stabilizes all community outreach regarding mental health. “I want residents to understand they’re not alone,” Lavoilette told WestfordCAT
Dick says, “Being here, this town is in the best spot possible for resources. We have coordinators who provide all kinds of programming and resources. We all work as a team to provide resources. It’s important for people to know that their tax dollars are going to great resources and employees”.
Discussion will continue with the Opioid Settlement Funds Task Force and the community exploring future ideas for use of the funds. Dick and Lavoilette say they want the community to reach out with suggestions, comments or questions regarding the opioid crisis in Westford. The plan is to send out surveys to all residents.
“We want all residents to have their voices heard. We will do the best we can,” Lavoilette says.
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