Funds will be used to train first responders on Narcan use and how best to interact with people struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues
The Herald News, Fall River, Mass.
FALL RIVER, Mass. — A large federal grant will go toward easing the impact of the opioid epidemic on Fall River and surrounding towns by funding resources like training for first responders, Narcan distribution and employing addiction recovery coaches.
"This is an extremely bright day in the city of Fall River," Mayor Paul Coogan said during a press conference announcing the grant on Friday.
The U.S. Department of Health's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awarded $2 million to the city, to be dispensed over four years in $500,000 increments. All the services and resources funded by the grant will be organized as part of a program called the Fall River First Responders — Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act project.
While Fall River is the primary recipient for the grant, Somerset, Swansea and Westport will also be part of the project. SSTAR, Boston Medical Center, Compassionate Health Care Group, River to Recovery, Recover FR, Essentia Wellness and LICSW practitioner Mary Chapman are working with the city on the project.
Money will go toward buying Narcan, a medicine that can reverse opioid overdoses, and training for local first responders and others on things like Narcan use and how best to interact with people struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues. It will also fund hiring recovery coaches who will be embedded with the Fall River Police Department to help with calls related to substance abuse and connect people they encounter with treatment options.
Coogan said the grant represents a "huge step forward" in what he called a "scramble" to address to opioid epidemic's impact on the city.
The number of non-fatal overdoses in the city dropped off significantly last year, but Fall River still sees hundreds of overdoses, including dozens that are fatal, every year.
Last year, the city saw 678 non-fatal overdoses, compared to 907 in 2019 and 1022 in 2018. While final numbers are still being calculated, at least 62 people fatally overdosed in Fall River in 2020. In 2019 and 2018, 72 and 62 people fatally overdosed, respectively.
Fall River Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza said during Friday's press conference that the opioid epidemic is personal for him, having lost three direct family members to overdoses. He knows through experience then, he said, that the resources funded by the grant will prevent more potentially fatal overdoses in the future.
"Getting the word out there, and getting those certified recovery coaches out there, works," he said.
Niki Fontaine, the city's homeless and substance use disorder advocate who does street outreach to people suffering from addiction, said her own experiences as someone in recovery from heroin abuse highlight the need to jointly address both substance abuse and mental health. Her drug use was largely in response to PTSD she suffers from because of abuse she endured as a child, she said.
And, she said, it's important that the program funding by the grant will extend to towns that neighbor Fall River. People dealing with addiction will come from small towns to the city to find drugs, and erasing what she described as invisible boundaries between municipalities will make it easier for people to get treatment.
"Small towns are famous for suffering in silence, just like I did while I was growing up in Dighton," she said.
Eight years ago, she said, it was impossible for her to go a full day without using heroin. Support from other people made all the difference in helping her get sober.
"We will be that hope on every call we go out to, and nobody will be turned away," she said.
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