GREENFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – It’s an issue we’ve been following here at 22News: the increase in substance abuse in Franklin County. 22News spoke with Greenfield residents about the drug problem and what law enforcement is planning to do next.
Residents, law enforcement, and health professionals met at Greenfield Community College on Monday to figure out the best way to tackle the heroin problem in Franklin County.
It started with an increase in petty crimes. Community leaders and members created the Opioid Education and Awareness Task Force in the summer of 2013. Then, in just 1 month there were 9 heroin overdoses in Franklin and Hampshire counties. This increase prompted Sheriff Chris Donelan to reach out to Governor Patrick for help.
One of the main topics on the agenda at the conference was prevention: how to stop the problem before it starts and escalates to the need for treatment. Sheriff Donelan told 22News education and outreach to young children is one of the keys to preventing substance abuse. “Education has to be a significant piece of this. We have to get in and have an honest conversation with our young people about the risks involved with heroine and opioid and be vigilante about prevention first and making sure fewer and fewer people get caught in this addiction cycle.”
The cycle starts with dependance on prescription pain medications leading to a cheaper, stronger drug; heroin. One resident told 22News pain management might be a way for him to help with prevention. Richard Wedegartner said, “I’m thinking about not so much the intervention later but the preventive side if massage therapists can help in reducing pain, we might help reduce addiction.”
Other residents at the meeting wanted to find out how they can help those close to them. Teenager, Grizz Smith, told 22News he’s seen the drug problem affect the youth. “I’ve seen lots of people get hooked. and i think we need to do something about that. I don’t think we should throw in the jail we should reach out and help them. They need help not hate.”
One of the issues Franklin County has in fighting substance abuse is a lack of treatment programs in the area. Senator Rosenberg told 22News that a repeal of a state alcohol tax in 2010 directly impacted funding for such programs. “Well we lost 80 million dollars in the repeal of that tax…all of which were earmarked for substance abuse prevention treatment, which would have kept a lot of facilities open or reopened a lot of facilities.”
Several people shared their personal testimonies and what types of programs worked for them and close relatives and friends. Sheriff Donelan said the next step is enforcement and making sure there are consequences for those putting the drug on the street.