‘The opposite of addiction is connection’

Sep 5, 2023

For many, Thursday, Aug. 31 was just another day as a sunny three-day holiday weekend approached.

But it was also Overdose Awareness Day, a painful reminder of the lives in Wareham and beyond that have been lost to overdose deaths.

Among Plymouth County municipalities, Brockton, Plymouth and Wareham have the highest counts of reported overdose deaths, according to Keoscha Pina, an employee of High Point Treatment Center.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Wareham had 126 reported overdose deaths in the last eight years.

Brockton and Plymouth, which reported the highest counts of overdose deaths for Plymouth County in 2022, had approximately .58 and .30 deaths for every 1,000 residents, respectively.

Wareham had approximately one death per 1,000 residents — the highest in the county for 2022 and making up 13% of the county’s overall overdose deaths for the year.

“It seems like at this point, everybody either knows somebody that struggled with it, or maybe even have immediate family members, so it’s not something we see in just bigger cities anymore,” said Patrick MacDonald, director of the town's Health Department.

There is no easy solution, but local people and institutions are trying. 

Two women from the High Point Treatment Center staffed a table at the weekly Summer of Love concert in Wareham on Wednesday, Aug. 30. Town officials are considering how to spend Wareham's piece of settlement money from a class-action suit against drug makers. And both Tobey Hospital and the Wareham Police have programs designed to get addicts into treatment.

“This is an epidemic that’s unfortunately, across the country,” said MacDonald.

Last year, Massachusetts received $525 million in funds to go toward prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery programs that will be dispensed among towns over the course of several years.

Wareham is expected to receive more than $750,000 in cumulative payments over 16 years as part of a statewide settlement with opioid distributors and manufacturers.

MacDonald said with strict guidelines on how the money can be spent and more money possibly coming in from additional lawsuits, the town has yet to decide where to put those funds.

He said, “We’re going to try to have some programs put together and really try to spend that money effectively so that we can hopefully help people.”

In the meantime, town departments and community organizations are putting their efforts toward connecting residents with needed services.

MacDonald said in Tobey Hospital’s emergency room renovations, different spaces have been set up where counselors can meet with people seeking treatment. 

He said in recent years, the Wareham Police Department began working with Plymouth County Outreach, which is an organization that collaborates with 27 municipal police departments in the county to help connect people with resources, services and tools to combat substance abuse.

The organization assists with follow up when the department encounters someone who is using or who may have overdosed.

He said the New Bedford Coalition also drives around to do needle exchanges and hand out information pamphlets.

On Wednesday, Aug. 30, High Point Treatment Center’s Keoscha Pina and Mae Hickey held an informational table during the Onset Bay Association’s Concert of Love performance at the Bandshell.

Pina and Hickey provided information on resources and services while also handing out Narcan and pamphlets with additional messaging. 

“We always say the opposite of addiction is connection and the more people we can get connected to education and other people who have experienced this in their life the more we can build a really strong community that protects each other,’’ Hickey said. 

She said she encourages everyone to learn more, share information and show support.

“There’s no right way to recover and there’s no right way or wrong way to support someone in recovery,” Hickey added. “Listening, learning, educating and being open minded – sometimes those are the only things that you can do, but they can be the most powerful things.”

High Point Treatment Center, based in Plymouth, also runs a number of substance abuse prevention coalitions with different communities, including Wareham, which is known as Wareham Connects.

The next meeting will be held Thursday, Sept. 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Town Hall in Room 27.