Forces rally Friday to battle addiction on Martha’s Vineyard

Two events will feature the founder of “Heroin Is Killing My Town” and staff from one of New England’s major treatment providers.

Billy Pfaff will be a keynote speaker at Friday's "Break The Silence" events. — courtesy of Billy Pfaff

It all started with an Islander’s rant. Lori Robinson Fisher of Edgartown had just heard about yet another overdose death on the Island, and after she vented her frustration, a friend of her daughter’s suggested she reach out to Billy Pfaff, founder of Massachusetts nonprofit “Heroin Is Killing My Town” (HKMT).

Through HKMT, Mr. Pfaff makes himself available for interventions and for assistance in finding a bed in a detox or inpatient rehab facility, at no charge, to people all over the country. He draws from an expansive database of addiction treatment providers he’s accrued over the two years he and HKMT have been active.

“I reached out to Billy on Facebook and I heard back right away,” Ms. Fisher told The Times. Mr. Pfaff told Ms. Fisher he’d be on the Vineyard in two days. In the meantime, she put the word out on “Islanders Talk,” a Facebook page which she created and maintains, with almost 6,500 members.

Response was immediate. By the time Mr. Pfaff arrived on April 19, she had a full day of meetings lined up. Mr. Pfaff booked two of the Islanders into treatment that day.

“He got on the phone and didn’t stop until he had them a place,” Ms. Fisher said. “The next morning they were both on the boat, Billy met them in Woods Hole and got them where they needed to go. One person is in a good long-term situation and the other is in a clinic out of state. They’re both doing very well.”

Ms. Fisher said she asked Mr. Pfaff to come back to speak to the community at large, and he immediately agreed. This Friday, Mr. Pfaff and staff members from Spectrum Health Care Systems, one of New England’s largest treatment providers, will attend two “Break the Silence” community awareness gatherings — the first will be at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School library at 2:15 pm, and is open to all ages. The second will be at the Oak Bluffs school gym, at 6:30 pm, and is open to ages 18 and older only.

Ms. Fisher said Island restaurateur J.B. Blau offered the use of the Loft, a business he owns on Oak Bluffs Avenue, for the events, but she opted for the two school locations to accommodate what she hopes will be large crowds.

“Billy’s determined to help as many as he can, and I hope a lot of people come out and support him,” she said. “He’s an amazing guy.”

On Tuesday afternoon, The Times sent a message to Mr. Pfaff on the Heroin is Killing My Town” Facebook page. He replied in 10 minutes. He said he’d placed five people into rehab, and supervised two interventions, that day. He said he needed to find two more beds for people before he could talk.

The next morning, Mr. Pfaff spoke to The Times from his car, on his way to an intervention.

He said he began HKMT after his closest friend died of a heroin overdose in March 2014. He said that he doesn’t have addiction issues, but that he was homeless at one point in his life, which gave him a close-up view of the ravages of addiction. Once back on his feet, he opened his own tattoo shop, Inkslingers, in Billerica.

“I had to close down the store because this work is more important to me,” he said. “I only tattoo on the side to help pay for things.”

Mr. Pfaff, 46, grew up in Burlington, and now lives just outside Salem. His typical day, if there is such a thing, involves “two phones ringing, texts and emails back and forth all day long,” along with the many calls he will make to find beds for those in need.

“Usually I can find somebody a bed within 24 hours, depending on the time of day I hear from them,” he said.

In the past two weeks, he’s been all over Massachusetts, to California and to Florida twice. He estimates he’s placed about 600 people into treatment this year.

“I have three people working with me right now who spend all day and all night, working on finding people beds,” he said. “When I help somebody get help, the families and the people in recovery volunteer to help me help other people in need. That’s how this organization has grown so fast. It’s all based on paying it forward.”

Mr. Pfaff said part of his work is “hitting the streets” to actively seek people who are in dire need of help their addiction.

“There really isn’t any action on the streets on the Vineyard,” he said. “It’s all behind closed doors.”

Mr. Pfaff said part of his goal is to create a team of Islanders who can help HKMT help Martha’s Vineyard. The team will reach out to those in need, help Mr. Pfaff find beds, and also keep watch during the crucial hours between the time the addicted person agrees to get help and the time he or she gets on the boat.

“There’s a small window of opportunity,” Mr. Pfaff said. “We have to get them off the Island and get them into treatment, no matter where it is. A lot of people OD doing that one last shot before rehab.”

Mr. Pfaff said the two Islanders he placed into treatment in April will be at Friday’s events.

Representatives from Spectrum Health Systems will also be at Friday’s gatherings. The company has an extensive network of treatment facilities throughout the country, including its flagship facility in Westborough, a 25-acre treatment center with 235 beds. The facility is the largest in New England and offers three levels of care — inpatient detox, short-term stabilization, and long-term residential treatment for both men and women.

Even though beds in treatment facilities are notoriously in short supply, Brendan Melican, spokesman for Spectrum, said beds frequently become available in the Spectrum system. “People on the Vineyard shouldn’t hesitate to call us,” he said. “Beds can open up quickly, especially with inpatient detox.” Mr. Melican said currently there are 200 people on the waiting list for inpatient detox. “That number can change very quickly. I’d say we’d have an opening showing up anywhere from a few days to a week. Even though we’re in Western Massachusetts, we can help people on Martha’s Vineyard. We’re just a phone call away.”

Mr. Pfaff can be reached on the Heroin Is Killing My Town Facebook page or on his cell phone, 844-437-6465.

The Spectrum New England Recovery Center can be reached at 508-792-5400.