More needed in fight against substance use disorder


The numbers don’t lie. If you think we’re out of the woods with addiction-related deaths, think again. The year 2018 saw dramatic increases in both suicide (four) and drug-related (eight) deaths; alcohol-related decreased to two. These figures are significantly up from 2017, where we recorded one attributed to suicide, three to drugs, and three to alcohol. If these numbers look small to you, think of it this way: Doing the math and figuring out a per capita death rate due to overdose, we are second only to West Virginia’s 2017 figures, which were the highest in the nation in 2017.

What are we doing? What are we doing wrong? What can we do better? What are we not doing?

The Substance Use Disorder Coalition began well over two years ago with its sights set on answering these questions. It consists of leaders in our healthcare community, clergy, local government, law enforcement, recovery, health agents, concerned citizens, and more. There is no lack of concern at the monthly meetings. Much work has been done, and services have been improving. We have secured priority placement in detox facilities off-Island; recovery coaches are here to assist those seeking help; medically assisted treatment is available; a syringe exchange program is established; support groups for families and friends and those suffering are here; Narcan is more readily available to reverse overdose; a crisis intervention center has been established. And yet, with all of these added services in place, the death toll rises.

Stigma continues to present a huge barrier to individuals seeking help and support. Living on an Island in a close community prevents many who don’t want others to know their problems exist from reaching out. The limited number of clinicians licensed to treat those suffering with addiction and mental health maladies curtails the ability to offer immediate response time when the window of opportunity opens up. There is no rehabilitation or housing facility in place to house those on medically assisted treatment, which is increasingly proving to be a successful path for many to recovery. The warming center and homeless shelter are seeing significant increases in numbers. These individuals are often afflicted with the diseases of addiction or mental health illness, or both.

All six towns on the Island have contributed financially in the past to support efforts by the county aimed at filling the gaps and improving services here. That funding has increased the supply and broadened availability of Narcan to help reverse overdose. Recovery coach training has been made available on the Island, enabling more to participate. Public service announcement campaigns have aided in getting information on services available to those who need it. Funding has been provided through grants and the county that allowed conducting a comprehensive health and wellness evaluation with an emphasis on addiction prevention in our schools, and implementing consistent prevention curriculum.

The Dukes County Health Council is a coalition of community members, public officials, health practitioners, and health organizations working together to promote communitywide health and wellness. Collaborating to support local initiatives, while reaching out to our state and federal agencies for legislative and financial support, is critical to addressing our needs. Dr. Charles Hodge Jr., chairman of the Health Council in 2016, calculated the total estimated cost to Martha’s Vineyard related to substance use disorder at $18,329,530.00! We are all affected by the epidemic of addiction in one way or another; if we work together on this we stand a much better chance of overcoming the challenges we face.

Please support our Island towns and agencies in combating this public health crisis together!


Todd is a Dukes County commissioner. She is also a member of the Dukes County Health Council and the Substance Use Disorder Coalition.