HCN News & Notes

Forum on Sept. 6 to Tackle Opioid Crisis in Western Mass.

SPRINGFIELD — Dr. Peter Friedmann, a recognized addiction specialist and chief research officer for Baystate Health, will participate in “Massachusetts Health Policy Forum: the Opioid Crisis in Western Massachusetts” on Friday, Sept. 6 from 8 a.m. to noon at UMass Amherst’s Amherst Room on the 10th floor of the Campus Center on 1 Campus Center Way. The public is invited to attend the event.

The opioid crisis continues to have a devastating impact on public health in Massachusetts. While progress has been made to combat the epidemic and reduce overdose deaths statewide, residents of small and rural communities in Western Mass. continue to suffer disproportionately.

“I hope the forum raises awareness that, even though some parts of the Commonwealth have seen a leveling off or reduction in the opioid crisis, it continues unabated in our region,” said Friedmann, who also serves as associate dean of Research at UMass Medical School – Baystate.

The Massachusetts Healthy Policy Forum (MHPF), in partnership with the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, RIZE Massachusetts, Baystate Health, and regional community coalitions focused on the opioid crisis, has developed a new issue brief that examines the unique impact of the opioid crisis in small and rural communities in Western Mass.

It examines the extent of the problem, the distinct challenges and gaps faced by these communities, best practices in the continuum of care for opioid-use disorder, and recommendations for addressing the problem in this region. Primary themes include the unique barriers that must be overcome in small towns and the innovative interventions currently underway.

During the forum, researchers from the Institute for Behavioral Health at the Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy and Management, representatives from area colleges, healthcare providers, public-health and behavioral experts, criminal-justice leaders, and community coalitions will discuss the issue brief and its recommendations. Following the presentation, a stakeholder panel will discuss the specific challenges faced by small and rural communities and innovative approaches underway to tackle the crisis. The discussions will be moderated by Yves Salomon-Fernandez, president of Greenfield Community College.

According to the most recent data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in 2018, while the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths decreased in the Commonwealth as a whole, the Western Mass. counties of Franklin, Berkshire, Hampshire, and Hampden experienced a 73% increase. Despite year-to-year fluctuations and small numbers in this part of the state, this finding is a major concern. It may be attributable to a higher prevalence of opioid-use disorder in some counties, higher opioid prescribing compared to the state average, and the extent of fentanyl in the illicit opioid supply. Before 2018, the presence of fentanyl in overdose deaths was lower in Western Mass. compared to the rest of the state. Increases in fentanyl-related deaths in Western Mass. appear to be converging to state levels, where they are responsible for more than 90% of opioid-related overdose deaths.