WOBURN, MA — More than 350 public officials, public health workers, families and volunteers came together for the 11th Annual Woburn District Court Heroin Education Awareness Task Force (H.E.A.T.) Conference at the Hilton Boston/Woburn Hotel on Friday, June 16.
The opioid crisis has taken an alarming turn in recent months, as highly lethal substances like fentanyl and carfentanil have made their way onto the streets. Many years ago, H.E.A.T. recognized the growing problem between painkiller abuse and heroin use, and has since called attention to even more deadly synthetic substances.
“H.E.A.T. has been working to combat the opioid crisis for over a decade at this point,” said Woburn Police Chief Robert Ferullo. “Unfortunately, the drugs that are poisoning our communities have gotten stronger and more lethal. It is more important now than ever that we continue to recognize our responsibility as public safety officials to educate and help addicts seek treatment.”
The H.E.A.T. program was founded by Vincent J. Piro and Michael P. Higgins, of the probation department of Woburn District Court and the police departments of the seven cities and towns under its jurisdiction, including Woburn, Burlington, North Reading, Reading, Stoneham, Wilmington and Winchester.
Last week’s conference was sponsored by Woburn District Court, and the seven police departments served by the court, as well as the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and AdCare Educational Institute.
Each year, the group comes together for its annual conference, but works tirelessly throughout the rest of the year to carry out its mission. First, the program is designed to educate the public, especially families and friends of addicts, about heroin use and abuse trends among young people. Second, H.E.A.T. ensures effective treatment for addicts, with a focus on young addicts, who are the most vulnerable to potentially fatal overdoses.
The H.E.A.T. Program has secured beds with Lahey Behavioral Health in Danvers, which will provide the facility and daily staffing to effectively help addicts pursue, maintain and manage the goals of treatment.
“As the dangers of the opioid crisis rise to new levels, we must continue to join together with families, law enforcement, probation and treatment providers to combat this disease and provide resources to those who need them,” said Piro, Chief Probation Officer for Woburn District Court. “We are thankful for our partnerships with the community and services throughout the Commonwealth for helping us to accomplish our mission of saving lives, and want to thank them for another successful conference this year.”
Friday’s conference featured addresses from Michael Coelho, Deputy Commissioner of Programs at Massachusetts Probation Service; Middlesex County Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian and Massachusetts State Sen. Jason Lewis.
It also included a presentation from Training Consultant Gretchen Grappone of Atlas Research, who spoke about strategies for professionals and the community to overcome stigma. Woburn Police Detective Sgt. Brian McManus detailed recent trends, pathways and overdose statistics in Woburn and what the department is doing in response. To wrap up the program, Director of Enforcement Sarah Fallon of the Board of Registry in Medicine talked about recent updates to the Law and Board of Registration prescribing practices policy and guidelines.
“Over the last decade, the collaboration of our police departments and the probation department from Woburn District Court, particularly the work of Vincent Piro and Mike Higgins, has without a doubt made a positive impact in the lives of thousands of people who suffer from a substance abuse disorder,” said Stoneham Police Chief James McIntyre. “The work and success of the H.E.A.T. program is a model for other communities and courts to follow.”
“The H.E.A.T. Program has continued to be a valuable partner to the Burlington Police Department in our fight against the opioid epidemic and addiction in our community,” said Burlington Police Chief Michael Kent. “Their dedicated staff is always available when we need them, and we will continue to work together to save lives.”
“Vincent, Mike and the entire H.E.A.T. program have provided invaluable training and insight for our department in the wake of this opioid epidemic,” said Reading Police Chief Mark Segalla. “We will continue to work together on educating and providing treatment to those who are suffering from addiction.”
“For 11 years the H.E.A.T. Conference has been the largest annual gathering of public safety and public health officials dedicated to tackling heroin and opioid addiction in the Commonwealth,” said Sheriff Koutoujian. “Long before the current crisis, H.E.A.T. members were working tirelessly to educate the public about the dangers of heroin and opioid use, and seeking effective treatment for those impacted. I thank Vincent Piro and Michael Higgins for the opportunity to once again share some of the work we are doing at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office. And I also want to thank all the participants for their work and the opportunity to continue to learn from their efforts through this conference.”
(NOTE: The above press release is from JGPR.)
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