County asks selectmen to directly address addiction

Dukes County commissioners will focus on addiction in the coming year. -Martha's Vineyard Times File Photo

Dukes County Commission chairman Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs announced in February that tackling addiction would define her priorities. At the All-Island selectmen’s meeting at the Tisbury Senior Center on Thursday night, she urged those selectmen in attendance — no selectmen from West Tisbury, Chilmark, or Aquinnah attended — to take an aggressive stance to combat addiction. Ms. Todd said selectmen “have an obligation to lead.”

Above all, she emphasized the need for coordination among town leaders and the various stakeholders who must contend with the effects of addiction, including police, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, schools, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS), and other nonprofits.

“We need to let our community know that the best thing they can do is help each other,” Ms. Todd said.

Ms. Todd suggested the creation of a one-stop website that would streamline information about local treatment options, rehabilitation centers, and a comprehensive schedule of support groups on-Island, such as Narcotics Anonymous. And she urged selectmen to place drug addiction on the agenda of their next meetings. No selectman responded to that suggestion.

In an effort to keep the meeting moving, chairman and Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel asked presenters to keep their agenda items to 15 minutes. This was difficult during Ms. Todd’s presentation because the audience, including a few Island residents, interim high school Principal Peg Regan, and Dukes County Health Council substance abuse committee chairman Bill Croke, were champing at the bit to share their thoughts on addiction.

Ms. Regan told Island selectmen that in the seven years she was in retirement, addiction had trickled down into high school–age Island students. “We have kids coming out of the seventh and eighth grade who are already using prescription drugs, who are overdosing, who are already abusing multiple drugs,” Ms. Regan said.

Ms. Regan told selectmen that the high school is focused on reducing harm rather than on curing addiction. She said a major issue was that, despite having a list of available medical facilities and contacts with law enforcement, there was no plan B for when the prescribed plan couldn’t be implemented.

“We almost need to connect the dots,” Ms. Regan said. She described the need for a flow chart of steps to take if a student comes to school high, sick, or overdosing. “We have enough money,” she said, referring to the collective wealth of Island residents and various local organizations.

The brief discussion reiterated what Island officials have been saying for months: Coordination must take place.

Mr. Croke told selectmen that the substance abuse committee is organizing a study to take a snapshot of addiction on the Island.

“It’s a critical problem that we really do need to show some leadership on,” said Oak Bluffs selectman Walter Vail. “There’s no question that we’ve got to move forward with something meaningful.”

Other business

In other business, Island selectmen heard a laundry list of updates from various Island groups working to improve social services on Martha’s Vineyard.

Dukes County manager Martina Thornton told selectmen that the county will purchase the old Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) building on Friday, March 18.

She also shared some good news: The bond used to effect the purchase will carry an interest rate lower than originally projected, saving the towns some money on the purchase. The exact amount saved was not presented.

Ms. Thornton told selectmen that the Center for Living, which plans to occupy most of the first floor of the building, will pay for virtually all of the renovations.

Tisbury selectman Larry Gomez requested a timeline with milestones related to the renovations be made available to the public, because the building will be paid for with tax dollars. Ms. Thornton said the county would comply with that request once a plan is finalized.

Representatives from the Dukes County Healthy Aging Task Force provided a brief update about FirstStop MV, a newly launched website designed to be a definitive resource for the elderly on Martha’s Vineyard. Among the information available on the website is information about caregiver support, consumer advocacy, elder abuse and neglect, financial resources, home care, legal assistance, and transportation.

The website launched in December, and in the month of February alone, saw over 600 individual hits, meaning 600 unique visitors.

Program manager for the website Karin Kugel told selectmen that she thought FirstStop could help provide information about addiction treatment. Ms. Kugel said she would explore those options more thoroughly in the near future.

The final agenda item was a presentation from Chilmark resident Constance Messmer, the driving force behind Love MV, an ad campaign to discourage littering across the Island. Ms. Messmer attributed an increase of litter on 20-somethings and immigrants, who she said were not raised with catchy ad campaigns, such as “give a hoot, don’t pollute,” that discourage littering at a young age.

Ms. Messmer presented selectmen with a checklist to promote Love MV’s mission. She also encouraged the placement of Love MV don’t-litter signs at town entryways, including Steamship Authority ports and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Dukes County Health Council substance abuse committee chairman Bill Croke as Bob Croke.