Martha’s Vineyard receives $20,000 for substance use prevention

Richie Smith, assistant superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard public schools and a Vineyard House board member, speaks at a recent forum on substance use. —Stacey Rupolo

Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools will receive a $19,700 grant to help fund the first year of the Botvin LifeSkills training, a student wellness program that deals with substance use prevention, beginning next year. The Vineyard joins districts across Massachusetts receiving grants for evidence-based substance use prevention education under a new initiative announced recently by Attorney General Maura Healey, tackling a significant need in the state’s battle against the ongoing opioid crisis, according to a news release from the Office of the Attorney General.

“Each child regardless of school will be getting similar programming, and having an emphasis on substance use prevention is timely right now,” Richie Smith, assistant superintendent of schools, said of the Island program in a phone conversation with The Times on Tuesday.

In Massachusetts, opioid overdoses kill more than five people every day, according to the news release. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimates that 1,979 people — the highest number ever recorded in the state, and a 13 percent increase year-over-year — died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016. Massachusetts has lost more than 5,000 people to opioid overdoses in the past three years.

Ninety percent of all adults struggling with addiction started using when they were under the age of 18, and 50 percent were under the age of 15. Studies have shown that effective substance use education and prevention programming can significantly decrease the risk of addiction among young people.

The attorney general will distribute $700,000 in funding for two years of prevention programming to 41 grantees in Massachusetts. Ms. Healey’s Youth Opioid Prevention Grant program will provide funding over two years to 25 school districts, as well as law enforcement agencies, nonprofits, and community health organizations. The programs will deliver evidence-based prevention programs to students at all grade levels about the dangers of opioid and other substance use.

Mr. Smith said the program will take place from third to 11th grade at Island schools, and depending on the grade level, will vary between eight and 14 lessons per year.

He also said that about a quarter of the Botvin LifeSkills program deals with substance use prevention, and Island schools will be using another program, Too Good for Drugs, in conjunction with LifeSkills to emphasize the importance of education around substance use prevention.

That program will take place at the end of this school year for fifth and sixth grades, and operates under the LEAD program, Law Enforcement Against Drugs, that partners with sheriffs and local law enforcement.

Mr. Smith said it’s important for consistency with Island-wide student health programming, so they are better prepared when they get to high school.

Students in three school districts on the Cape and Islands will benefit from the effort — Barnstable Public Schools, Monomoy Regional School District, and Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, the news release said.

The programs are being funded by settlements the A.G.’s office reached with CVS Pharmacy in September 2016 and later with Walgreens in January, totaling $700,000, over opioid dispensing practices. Following the announcement of the grant program in November, the A.G.’s office received 120 applications totaling nearly $4 million in requested funding from schools, community health centers, municipalities, police departments, and nonprofits.