Grant to help Northern Berkshire group fight opioid overdoses

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NORTH ADAMS — A $100,000 burst of federal funding will help a group of community organizations — including the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition — to help combat drug overdoses.

U.S. Reps. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, on Friday announced the Rural Opioid Overdose Reversal grant award to the organizations.

The funding, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will go toward the purchase the overdose reversal drug naloxone, as well as training for its use by licensed health care professionals, according to the announcement. It also will support the development of policies that increase overdose education awareness as well as referrals for those who are in need of treatment.

Locally, the grant will assist the coalition's staff in developing standards around access and education to the overdose reversal drug, with partners in health care providers, homeless shelters, and local law enforcement agencies.

Wendy Penner, director of prevention programs at the coalition, hopes to educate the community about naloxone and where it is available.

"We want people to understand it's not a psychoactive drug, it's not something that can hurt people, we want people to understand how it works," Penner said. "This literally reverses the affect of the opioid."

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The coalition is part of the Northwest Opioid Reversal Project, which was the only winner of the grant in Massachusetts and one of only 18 in the country.

Other project members include the North Quabbin Community Coalition, the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region in partnership with Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

The new funding comes as heroin addiction continues to affect families across the stats; more than 1,000 people died in Massachusetts from an overdose in 2014.

"It is clear that this is a national problem that has reached epidemic proportions," Neal said. "That is why I welcome today's federal grant to help fight the opioid crisis here at home. We need to use every resource available to fight this scourge that has touched families all across America."

In their announcement, the congressmen noted that prescription opioid abuse was found to have a greater impact on rural communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"This funding is so important for getting naloxone into the hands of health care providers and community members who need it the most," Opioid Task Force Director Marisa Hebble said in a statement. "This collaborative project will save lives and help to facilitate important connections to help our neighbors, loved ones and community members in need."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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