By SCOTT JACKSON
Community members in recovery from addiction, first responders, and a state lawmaker who has made the opioid epidemic one of his top priorities all spoke at a forum for city councillors to learn more about the opioid problem and how it is being addressed in Quincy and across the state.
The City Council’s education committee held the forum Tuesday – it was the second time this year the committee has met to discuss the opioid epidemic. In June, the committee heard from Laura Martin, the former Norfolk County prosecutor who is now Mayor Thomas Koch’s substance-use prevention coordinator; Martin highlighted planned changes to Quincy Public Schools’ curriculum at that meeting.
Mark Giordani, a Houghs Neck resident, was among those who spoke Tuesday night. Giordani, who said he is a recovering drug addict, told the committee that education on substance-use disorders should begin at the middle school level for students and their parents.
“My addiction started with pain medication given by doctors. I think we should start in the junior highs in Quincy and educate the parents and the kids, especially the athletes who are playing sports. They’re going to get hurt, they’re going to see a doctor and they’re probably going to be prescribed opiates and that’s how it starts,” Giordani said.
“I think that would be a way to go.”
Mary Cahill, a North Quincy resident, said she has been sober for 28 years. She speaks to students in Stoneham schools five or six times annually, and has begun bringing Quincy residents who are in recovery from heroin and opioid addiction with her in recent years. Cahill suggested Quincy Public Schools should do the same.
“Quincy has a big problem but Quincy’s got a huge recovery, and I don’t know how many people know that. I know thousands of people who are sober,” Cahill said, in Quincy and in neighboring communities.
“I think there are thousands of untapped resources right here in Quincy that can help in our schools.”
Councillors who attended Tuesday’s meeting said it was important to hear from the community.
“This is a very important matter here in the city of Quincy,” said Councillor Noel DiBona, who earlier this year introduced a resolution calling for hearings on the opioid issue. “I think sweeping this under the rug is not the way to go.”
Ward 2 Councillor Brad Croall said individuals in recovery can be a resource for the community.
“I know we read a lot of headlines about overdoses and people struggling with addiction on a daily basis and those things are real, but, much to the contrary, so is recovery,” Croall said.
“I really do believe strongly that making those individuals who have maintained some sort of recovery on a consistent basis, making those folks more available throughout the community I do think can aid to continue to combat this.”
Councillor Nina Liang said the issue hits close to home for many people in Quincy and throughout Massachusetts.
“I think it’s important that we discuss this at the council level because it’s a collective issue to address this from all of us in the community,” she said. “I feel as though every person I talk to knows and has a personal story about someone who has successfully gone through recovery or unfortunately has lost somebody to an overdose.”
Police Lt. Patrick Glynn, commander of the department’s Drug Control Unit, said Police Chief Paul Keenan and School Superintendent Dr. Richard DeCristofaro are working together to formulate a new DARE curriculum that would be offered starting in lower grade levels.
“The chief has been in contact with Dr. DeCristofaro about enhancing the DARE program, calling it DARE Plus,” Glynn said. “The curriculum is changing and it is going to be distributed down to lower groups.”
The Quincy Police Department was the first department in the nation whose officers carried Narcan, a drug that can reverse overdoses caused by opioids, heroin and fentanyl.
“We took a different approach,” Glynn said. “We kind of reset the mindset. It’s not an addict, it’s a person. It’s someone’s family member. We’ve all lost family – we’ve all lost children, relatives – to this epidemic.”
Community police officers have also begun follow-up visits to families after an overdose. Glynn said more than 105 such visits have been made in the past four months.
The Quincy Fire Department and Brewster Ambulance also carry Narcan, said Capt. Richard Bryan of the fire department. All three agencies respond to overdose calls and the first on scene begins administering the drug. Bryan and Glynn said multiple doses of Narcan are sometimes needed, particularly if fentanyl had been taken. The person is then taken to the hospital for observation to ensure there is no secondary overdose once the Narcan wears off.
Sen. John Keenan highlighted efforts by lawmakers on Beacon Hill to address the opioid epidemic. Keenan, a Quincy Democrat, has made the issue one of his top priorities.
Keenan noted first-time prescriptions for opioids are now limited to a seven-day supply, as are all opioid prescriptions for minors. Practitioners must also check the state’s prescription monitoring program when an opioid is prescribed as well.
In addition, the senator noted pharmacies in Massachusetts can no longer fill opioid prescriptions written by doctors outside New England or New York, and residents can request pharmacies only partially fill a prescription for an opioid.
Keenan said state agencies have also begun working together to collect data on addiction. Going forward, he said that information could help allow state agencies to identify who is most at risk for substance-use disorders.
“When you take all the data that we’re gathering, and you add in self reporting, I think the prospects of predicting who is more prone to dependency and addiction will lead to better prescribing practices and to a better way of treating people without opioids,” Keenan said.
“That’s something we’re really working on.”