Yesterday, The Friends of the School of Social Work at Salem State University held its 20th Annual Professional Development Workshop. The workshop, “Broadening Options for Individuals with Opioid Use Disorders” was presented by Leonard Campanello, Chief of Police in Gloucester; Michael Levy, Ph.D, Director of Substance Use Treatment Services at North Shore Medical Center; Jonathan Blodgett, Essex County District Attorney; Joanne Peterson, Founder and CEO of Learn 2 Cope and Luis Diaz who provided a personal perspective on recovery.
Chief Campanello developed and is implementing the “Angel Program” described as “revolutionary” by Salem State Faculty member host Shelly Steenrod.
In 9 months, the Gloucester program has placed 400 people in treatment settings, most within 24 hours of presenting themselves at the police station. The program considers anyone showing up at the police station with a drug problem as in need of treatment, not incarceration. They are provided with a volunteer recovery coach and placed immediately into a treatment service. The Chief stated that “we are not judging…we are reducing stigma”. Over 100 police departments around the country are now implementing their versions of the Angel Program.
Dr. Levy provided data that demonstrated that substance use disorders are no different from diabetes, asthma and other medical disorders in terms of prevalence and response to treatment. He emphasized that substance use disorders and addiction is stigmatized, the other disorders are not. Levy reminded the treatment professionals in attendance that “our relationship with patients can have a profound effect on the treatment outcome.” He urged everyone to “individualize and engage; treat people with dignity and respect.” Levy also reviewed some of the efforts underway by the North Shore Medical Center to better screen patients there for substance use disorders. He also described the changes NSMC doctors are involved with that are altering prescribing practices to prevent abuse of medications.
District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, a long-time advocate for substance use prevention and treatment, reviewed some of the recent changes in the legal system to support prevention and treatment. Blodgett told the crowd that sometimes the structure of a legal sentence that mandates participation in treatment is the key to successful recovery. This is well known to many treatment professionals and family members who struggle with the oftentimes impaired judgement of someone in early recovery.
Learn 2 Cope was founded in 2004 by Joanne Peterson as she struggled with her son’s addiction. She described her experiences with the disease of addiction as it effected her family. “We were just parents like everyone else”, she explained. The self-help organization which provides support and education for friends and family members of addicts now has 23 chapters across Massachusetts. Peterson explained that “it can take seven years to achieve long term recovery”. She advocated that “we need long term treatment (resources) not spin dry”. Peterson further stated that one of the most important factors in dealing with the disease is hope. “People do find recovery”, she stated and added that her son now has 11 years of recovery.
Luis Diaz who now works actively in the treatment community, described his experiences as an addict that eventually resulted in his incarceration. He has been in recovery for over 18 years now. His work in the prison system with recovering addicts will be the subject of a documentary. The film, “Beyond the Wall” was filmed primarily at the Billerica House of Corrections and illustrates some of the innovative programs with which Diaz has been involved. He explains addiction as “if you continue doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you have”. One of the innovative programs he described was a barber shop in Lowell that in addition to cutting hair, will also connect an addict with recovery resources if they need it.
The speakers described many efforts to address the drug problem and specifically the problem with opiates. The opiate problem alone continues to kill four people a day in Massachusetts. Diaz reminded us that despite all of these efforts, the problems continue. He quoted a drug dealer who recently told him that he is “looking for Heroin to cut the Fentanyl. Fentanyl is now cheaper and more readily available than heroin. It is also much more powerful than heroin and is now seen as lethal to anyone using it.