Time for a substance abuse strategy


To the Editor:

For many months now, we’ve been hearing about the Commonwealth’s opioid crisis. Last Thursday’s Times announced its arrival on Martha’s Vineyard. Heroin, of course, is grabbing all the headlines, but as we all know, alcohol continues to kill more people than all other drugs combined — illegal or not. Law enforcement, ground zero on this problem, is doing an incredible job, but one can just hear their frustration when they talk about being unable to refer people for help because the resources simply don’t exist here.

Last year, on the heels of a powerful series on addiction written by Barry Stringfellow, The Times published an editorial on February 26, “Time for concerted action, community strategy,” suggesting it was time for the Island to come up with a “coordinated community strategy” to fight what for years has been referred to as the Vineyard’s No. 1 public health problem.

This morning, Governor Baker’s task force on opioid addiction released their report, recommending sweeping changes in the way addiction is perceived, as well as the way treatment is provided.

Here’s our chance. Models are being developed; funds are sure to follow. A “coordinated community strategy” continues to be the best point-of-entry for us to begin addressing this growing crisis. Substance abuse costs Martha’s Vineyard upwards of $50 million annually, along with untold suffering, and now, increasingly, deaths from overdoses as well. Families who’ve already been touched by this scourge are asking, What’s it going to take?

There are lots of qualified people here on this Island who are not only interested, but who want to help. All we’ve got to do is get them in the same room. Barnstable County is a great model of a community that has come together around this problem. Its recently released report on substance abuse on Cape Cod is a virtual blueprint for how a community (very much like our own) can work across town lines and varied interests and put together a “coordinated community strategy” that is actually addressing this problem, and getting results.

Time and again, Martha’s Vineyard has come together around issues that affect us all. Substance abuse is perhaps the greatest challenge we will face in our lifetime. Kids are suffering, our economy is being affected, and the very quality of our existence here on this pristine piece of real estate is being threatened. The time has come to put this issue on the table and face it head-on.

Bill Croke