Plymouth County Steps Up Help for Addicts

Keep Calm and Carry Narcan sign at The Beanstalk Festival; Photo by Ashley Barrow

By Ashley Barrow

Keep Calm and Carry Narcan sign at The Beanstalk Festival; Photo by Ashley Barrow

Recovery advocates in historic Plymouth are promoting the creation of campus-like communities to hep those struggling with addiction.

Plymouth County is known for its old history, museums, scenic coastline, and a place to unwind. As reported by the Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,093 square miles, of which 661 square miles of it is land and 433 square miles of it is water.

For a location that is so symbolic of tranquility – why are there so many opioid related overdoses? Residents have shared their recovery stories and officials of Plymouth County have outlined what goes on behind closed doors away from the sandy beaches and what makes them different than other communities when it comes to stopping more overdoses.

“It’s our number one problem that we’re dealing with. Not only opioid use disorder – substance use disorder and all the things that come with it,” said Chief Scott Allen of East Bridgewater Police Department.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued its quarterly report on opioid-related overdose deaths among residents in May 2019. There was a 26 percent drop in overdose deaths in Plymouth County from 2017 to 2018

Overdose deaths in Plymouth County from 2010-2018; Infographic created by Ashley Barrow.

State Senator Vinny deMacedo of Plymouth focuses on the communities and especially the children when it comes to the opioid crisis.

He said, “We kind of changed our perception of addiction and I think that was very helpful. We’ve tried to address this from every angle that we can in trying to put as many resources on it because we believe that if we do not then the implications are going to be staggering.”

Plymouth County has been recognized as one of 16 communities that needs additional help in funding for this epidemic. It is part of an $89,000,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to combat opioid use. Doctor Jeffrey Samet, MD, the chief of general internal medicine at BMC and professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, is the lead investigator of the study.

Carly Bridden, Clinical Research Director at Boston Medical Center (BMC) said, “We haven’t started the study yet so there hasn’t been any work in the communities thus far. We also haven’t randomized the 16 communities yet, which will impact the timeline for when activities will be rolled out.”

David Kibbe, Communications Director of BMC had this to say. Specific interventions in the communities in the study have not yet been determined, and won’t be available until the fall, following the completion of study design and a community engagement process. Expansion of treatment with medication, distribution of naloxone, and reducing stigma are all key goals of NIDA and BMC in every community in the study.”

Community members doing recovery graffiti Beanstalk Festival in July 2019; photo by Ashley Barrow

Plymouth County signifies itself as taking a hub approach in combating the crisis. Plymouth County Outreach is one group that aims to foster change within the Plymouth Community.

The follow-up program is nationwide and launched in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This program consists of 27 police departments with the 28th one being at Bridgewater State University.

“It’s really a community approach,” said Chief Allen.

Sarah Cloud, Director of Social Work at Beth Israel Hospital in Plymouth said that the follow up program has been an example for other counties. “50 percent of the time people don’t engage in treatment in the emergency room. Our connection linking them to treatment and overdose follow ups was about 80 percent so that was a huge deal.”

Susan Silva, President and Executive Director of PCO Hope is someone who looks forward to hearing people’s stories every day.

PCO Hope is a place for those in recovery from substance disorders, those not in recovery, family members and supporters to come together and help each other recognize what their options are.

The organization was formed in 2012 after Silva reached out to Chief of Police John Cowley about partnering in Plymouth.

Silva said, “We’re really trying to help the community as a whole.”

She suggested that Boston Medical Center should invest the grant money in a something similar to a college campus where everyone can be together in one location to focus on their recovery.

Silva mentioned that there has been an improvement over the past few years in Plymouth County. She mentioned the importance of truly listening to the person in recovery and giving everyone different options when it comes to medically assisted treatment.

She speaks from first-hand experience in caring for someone with an addiction. Her son is in recovery. She said, “Every time you give someone a chance at recovery you never know when it will happen for them.”

During every Plymouth County Outreach there are a few people in long-term recovery who talk about their direct experience within the recovery community. Ted Cummings is one of them and touched on how times have changed since he once battled an alcohol addiction.

“An addiction is an addiction. Some people are more comfortable at an AA meeting than they are an NA meeting.”

Cummings has been in recovery since the 70’s and works at a funeral home in Brockton, Massachusetts – a location a part of Plymouth County where overdoses have recently skyrocketed during July 2019.

“Being in AA for a long time I just think that anything that keeps people from using if they’re comfortable with it and they have a better lifestyle then it’s really their choice. I got sober without a detox, but I look back and that was a little bit dangerous. I didn’t drink the volume that I hear other people talking about. I still believe in detoxes more than I did when I was younger, ” said Cummings.

He sees first-hand how people are treated differently in Plymouth County and how there is less of a stigma towards those struggling and more of a community-based approach towards those in recovery.

Friend of Nick Bean created this banner to spread awareness about opioid addiction resources at The Beanstalk Festival in July 2019; Photo by Ashley Barrow

Karen Linsky, former girlfriend of Nick Bean has a message for those struggling. “The best piece of advice I could offer to someone in recovery is: Please be happy, the sun will rise.”

State Senator Vinny deMacedo thinks there is more work to do, but overall has a positive outlook on the next steps Plymouth will take. “Plymouth has done everything as a community to attack this crisis head on. Because of that we are starting to bend the curve. We have a long way to go but we are making progress because we are taking this crisis so seriously.”