Islanders marshal forces to attack the opioid crisis

Recovery experts, town and county officials, law enforcement, and clergy to hold public forum to address prevention, intervention, and treatment.

An opioid forum will be held on Monday. – MVCS

Islanders of all stripes will gather at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Performing Arts Center at 7 pm, Monday, June 6, to take a collective stand against the rising tide of opiate addiction. The program, titled “Opiates, Addiction, and Our Community,” is intended to provide a close-up look at the scope of the increasingly deadly problem on the Island, and lay the groundwork for a coordinated regional response.

“We’re setting this up to appeal to a wide spectrum of people on the Island,” Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) executive director Julie Fay told The Times.

The event will lead off with key members of the recovery community giving an account of the realities of addiction and the current most effective treatment modalities that can offer hope to the afflicted and their loved ones. They will also discuss what to do when all else fails, e.g. how to obtain a Section 35, the court order that involuntarily commits one to treatment.

Medical professionals will delve into the physiological and psychological aspects of the disease of addiction. “Addiction is not a moral failure; it is clearly a disease,” Ms. Fay said.

Islanders from different walks of life who are in recovery will share how they gained and maintain the upper hand over the insidious disease.

SAFE at home

Ms. Fay said West Tisbury Police Chief Dan Rossi recommended the Vineyard group contact Jim Derick, the parent of a recovering addict, who created the Support for Addicts and Families by Empowerment, or “SAFE Coalition,” in Norfolk. SAFE is a group of parents and community officials who serve as a support network for the addicted and for their families.

“A lot of what SAFE has done is reminiscent of when Father Chip [Seadale] and the ecumenical group pulled together volunteers to help the homeless on the Island,” Ms. Fay said.

Ms. Fay said Norfolk law enforcement officials gave Mr. Derick, and SAFE, high marks. “The things [SAFE] has accomplished in a year are pretty amazing,” she said. “They have tied recovery coaches to an intervention team. Every time someone is treated with Narcan, a SAFE volunteer or police officer will speak with them right away about recovery options, sometimes while they’re still in the emergency room.”

According to its Facebook page, a goal of SAFE is to create “drop-in” treatment events in which a range of services for addicts and their families would be assembled under one roof — including clinicians, substance abuse counselors, support-group staff for parents, treatment center staff, and Narcan instructors.

A key component in SAFE is supporting people in long-term recovery with “recovery angels,” or volunteer recovery coaches.

Ms. Fay said that last month, 20 Islanders began training to become recovery coaches. “Twenty people signed up; it was an interesting cross-section of clinicians, teachers, and people from the recovery community,” she said. “Now we have a cadre of people who can do this kind of work. We’ll take a page out of SAFE’s book.”

Forming a coalition

The forum is also intended to bolster cooperation among various Island entities to form a more cohesive, regional response to the epidemic. The forum itself is the result of a nascent coalition of Island agencies.

“A group of Islanders met for the past three Thursdays to come up with a game plan for a community response to the problem,” Ms. Fay said. “We were really pleased with how many people from different parts of the Island have been showing up.”

Ms. Fay said law enforcement officers from several towns, members of the Drug Task Force, school superintendent Matt D’Andrea and assistant superintendent Richie Smith, staff from Vineyard House, the YMCA, the Dukes County Health Council, and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, and clergy have all been attending the meetings.

Asked if any town officials have attended the meetings, she said they had not.

“We’re hoping that this will result in a more cohesive response to the problem,” Ms. Fay said. “We need to talk as a community, not as the organizations we come from. We have a lot of the different pieces, we just need to get them better coordinated. Which is one of the goals of the forum.”