DPH commissioner to keynote Vineyard substance abuse forum

Monica Bharel, MD, will speak at a public forum about substance abuse and opiod addiction at the MVRHS Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, Feb. 1. — Courtesy Mary Korba

In response to the ongoing opioid epidemic that continues to inflict death and destruction on Martha’s Vineyard and across Massachusetts, the Martha’s Vineyard Substance Use Disorder Coalition, in conjunction with Vineyard House and Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, will host a community forum entitled “Destigmatizing Substance Use Disorder: Addressing the Opioid Epidemic through a Public Health Lens.”

Dr. Monica Bharel, state Department of Public Health (DPH) commissioner and director of the state’s response to the opioid crisis, will be the keynote speaker. Dr. Bharel will discuss the current state of the crisis and DPH efforts to combat it. She will also focus on DPH efforts to destigmatize substance abuse disorders.

The forum will take place Wednesday, Feb. 1, at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center at 6 pm.

“We’d been planning on doing another forum for the community, like we did on June 6, and we were waiting to get Commissioner Bharel as our speaker because she does an incredible piece on stigma,” Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) executive director Julie Fay told The Times. “Stigma is usually the biggest hurdle in trying to get people or their loved ones motivated to get help.”

According to Ms. Fay, community collaboration sparked by the June 6 community forum, “Opiates, Addiction, and Our Community” was directly responsible for the recently signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) that Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) signed with two off-Island detox centers, assuring Islanders of quick placement in an inpatient detox facility.

Vineyard House director Jane Seagrave and assistant superintendent of schools Richie Smith will moderate the forum.

“We got feedback on the June forum from members of the community who felt there wasn’t enough time for Islanders to speak about their own situation or about their views on the situation, so we want to accommodate that with a longer Q and A period,” Ms. Fay said.

Members of the recovery community, including clinicians and recovery coaches, will be available during and after the forum.

Dr. Bharel has served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, Boston University Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health. She was previously at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Medical Center. She has practiced general internal medicine for 20 years in neighborhood health centers, city hospitals, the Veterans Administration, university hospitals, and nonprofit organizations.