Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Officials: War on Drugs Must Start Earlier
$171G Grant to boost substance-abuse education
By Amelia Pak-Harvey
By Amelia Pak-Harvey
LOWELL — Kicking off a month of substance-abuse prevention efforts, Greater Lowell officials called for a community effort to address a problem they say needs to be fought at an even earlier age.
In its latest prevention effort, the Greater Lowell Health Alliance announced $171,426 for local organizations, part of $200,000 in state funds given to GLHA with the help of State Rep. Tom Golden, a Lowell Democrat.
The grants include a task force for the Lowell Community Health Center, a drug-awareness program for Dracut public schools, dramatic performances for Lowell middle school students and more.
GLHA will receive $5 million from Lowell General Hospital over the next 14 years, money that could be used to fight mental-health and substance-abuse issues.
But to local officials, the problem is far from over.
“I think it’s important that everybody here continue to talk about the strides that I think we’re making, but that doesn’t mean we’re done yet,” Golden said at a press conference on Monday. “I think we’re a long way from being done.” Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, he said, people talked about substance abuse by pointing to the individuals and saying they did it to themselves. Now, he noted, Lowell is a community that does not point.
“I think that the only way we’re going to continue to make it work to help that next individual is by staying together and making sure that we have that message,” he said. “That message that you’re not ‘those people,’ you’re our family and the people that we love.” City Manager Kevin Murphy said drug education needs to start in elementary school. Some of his family members have had substance issues, he said, but have since found treatment.
“It’s not just people who are doing it in the gutters,” he said. “It’s people of all socioeconomic areas that are addicted to substances, and we have to recognize that.”
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said there has been great success in working with schools on the issue.
“These used to be high school problems,” she said. “Now we know they’re middle school and we need to be starting even lower than that with respect to the education that’s out there.”
Her office is also working to address the accessibility of such drugs.
“Right now, a bag of heroin is cheaper than a six-pack,” she said. “So for people who have developed some addiction, it’s very easy to satisfy that illegally. And that has brought with it its own set of problems.”
Statewide, the number of opioid overdose deaths has increased 90 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to statistics from the Department of Public Health.
But at Lowell High School, the percentage of students who have used alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and prescription drugs in their lifetime has dropped from 2010 to 2012, according to statistics from GLHA.
In Westford, 15 percent of youth misuse prescription drugs annually, according to a 2012 risk-behavior survey. In Chelmsford, that number is 8.1 percent.
Ryan Columbus, a detective lieutenant with the Tewksbury Police Department, said Tewksbury has had 52 overdoses since this year, with two causing death.
The Police Department received $10,000 from GLHA for a substance-abuse and prevention education week.
“We realized that we will not arrest our way out of this epidemic,” he said. “That collaboration and education are needed to move forward.”
Billerica Selectman Daniel Burns said the town hired four new health teachers to work within elementary schools this year, bringing an awareness of drugs and alcohol abuse at an earlier age.
The town’s Substance Abuse Prevention Committee received $10,000 from GLHAfor a coordinator for substance-abuse programs in the schools and community.
“Our community has recognized the negative impact substance abuse brings to the individual family and community, at both the community and personal level,” he said.