September 21, 2018
Central Massacusetts Health

Column: When facing addiction, how communities can build resilience

Romas Buivydas

When we talk about addiction and the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis, we tend to look at the nation as a whole or at the state level. The misuse of prescription opioids and heroin use is one of the most significant health threats in the United States today, claiming more lives than motor vehicle crashes, yet access to care is drastically low in some parts of the country.

The real impact, however, is made at the city or town level. We're talking about real people in real communities, facing drug and alcohol addiction whether it be their own, or that of their family, friends, neighbors, or local officials.

Spectrum Health Systems recently implemented an education and training program for nonprofits, healthcare organizations, educational facilities, municipalities and more to learn about the disease of addiction, and how to address it on their level.

Build awareness and provide education

The amount of misconceptions about addiction can be astounding, but it's an opportunity to step in and help the public truly understand what the disease is and how it affects individuals and communities.

Training sessions on how to administer naloxone, the opioid overdose-reversing medication, learning about medication-assisted treatment and studying the varying levels of addiction treatment are valuable for anyone to know.

I recently visited the town of Randolph and their Department of Public Works employees for a training session about addiction. One attendee told about speaking to a young person about the dangers of heroin and addiction. Another attendee became more aware of the dangers of binge drinking with friends. Many people feel that addiction will never affect them, but the line crossing into dangerous territory is often blurred. Having that awareness is invaluable.

The real key in educating a large group of people? Openness and flexibility. We all come from different backgrounds and have unique life experiences. Presenting this topic with a fair and open mind is essential to reach each person.

Be proactive

We often see committee after committee being developed, meeting after meeting held, but no actionable plan put in place. When Jean McGinty, a public health nurse at the Randolph Health Department, saw that the opioid epidemic was in full effect with no plans set in stone, she ordered naloxone for the town and schedule educational trainings and interactive sessions for employees. Additionally, McGinty is establishing a program that sends a town representative to the homes of those who have overdosed to offer support.

Randolph is also focused on the future, more specifically our youth. How do today's high school and junior high school students view addiction? How deeply have they been affected? Establishing awareness early will help tomorrow's adults build resiliency and strength to combat this chronic disease and help those in their community who need it.

Save lives, establish resiliency

Many towns have trainings for CPR, First Aid and more, but addiction treatment has been a unspoken topic for quite some time. When local officials and citizens alike step-up and take the bull by the horns, that's building resiliency.

Be proactive in knowledge and in action. In Massachusetts, 1,874 people died from an overdose in 2017.

Today, order naloxone. Book those trainings. Think about each and every citizen in your town who needs or may need help. In this way, we build a stronger and healthier community through resiliency.

Dr. Romas Buivydas is the vice president of clinical development at Spectrum Health Systems.

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