WOBURN, MA — Hundreds of leaders in public health and law enforcement came together last month for the 12th Annual Woburn District Court Heroin Education Awareness Task Force (H.E.A.T.) Conference to discuss the latest trends and treatment surrounding substance abuse.
On Friday, June 15, attendees gathered at the Hilton Boston/Woburn to learn more about drug use and ways to assist those struggling with addiction. The half-day meeting consisted of experts speaking about substance abuse treatment, prevention and enforcement.
The H.E.A.T. program was founded by Vincent J. Piro and Michael P. Higgins, of the probation department of Woburn District Court, the police departments of the seven cities and towns under its jurisdiction: Woburn, Burlington, North Reading, Reading, Stoneham, Wilmington and Winchester, the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and the AdCare Educational Institute. The program is designed to educate the public, especially families and friends of those suffering from addiction, about heroin use and abuse trends among young people.
“To all the presenters and attendees who joined us for the 12th annual conference, thank you for making this year a success,” Piro said. “Every year, the Woburn District Court and our partner agencies work to provide life saving resources to those in need, and it is through these collaborations that we have been successful.”
Over the last few years, overdose deaths have exceeded motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. More than a decade ago, H.E.A.T. recognized the growing problem between painkiller abuse and heroin use, and every year works to call attention to deadly synthetic substances in an effort to prevent addiction and deaths.
“The H.E.A.T. program has been at the forefront of these issues for almost 13 years,” Woburn Police Chief Robert Ferullo said. “It is the belief of leaders at Friday’s conference that we must collaborate across agencies to provide education to the public on prevention, treatment for those struggling with addiction, and enforcement of the laws to make a difference in the opioid crisis.”
To open the conference, Stephen Wood from Winchester Hospital spoke about the rise in popularity of vaping, new substances that are being taken for recreational use (everything from Morning Glory flower seeds to “Flakka” — a synthetic cathinone that causes a number of symptoms like hallucinations and violent behavior) and potential warning signs that a loved one may be using drugs.
Britte McBride, Commissioner of Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, informed attendees about the provisions and regulations that will be in place for the marijuana industry once legalized sales go into effect on July 1, including mandated advertisements to educate consumers and promote safe use of products, stringent security protocols at establishments and testing of products before they go onto the market.
Billerica Town Manager John Curran shared his experience with the opioid crisis from a municipal level, using a proactive and reactive approach, while Tewksbury Police Chief Timothy Sheehan spoke about the change in perspective that law enforcement must take to address the opioid epidemic.
“We found that we couldn’t arrest our way out of the problem,” Chief Sheehan said. “We were really failing by not going deeper into the issue, and instead just going through the judicial system.”
In Tewksbury, the mentality of solely relying on enforcement has been altered and officials are looking at education, collaboration with local agencies and counseling/treatment to address the root of the issue. Additionally, all officers carry Narcan, an opioid reversal drug, to save the lives of those who are overdosing.
Michael McLaughlin and Pierce Aliberti, of Stoneham, closed the conference by sharing their experiences and journeys to recovery, thanking those who helped them along the way with resources and support.
(NOTE: The above press release is from JGPR.)
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