Members of Whitman-Hanson WILL, an anti-opiod abuse community group, met at the WHRHS library on Wednesday, July 19 to review past programs, a 2016 youth survey and current opioid overdose data.
The group will hold another meeting at the school’s library at 1:45 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 21 before planning a community-wide session at the Hanson Public Library on a date to be determined in October.
“We want to include the community in some of our discussions, because we have been primarily focused at the school and with law enforcement throughout Whitman and Hanson,” said Amanda Sandoval of the Brockton Area Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative. “We really want to have the voice of the community involved.”
Attending the July 19 meeting were police chiefs Scott Benton of Whitman and Michale Miksch of Hanson; police officers Daniel Connolly of Whitman, and Elisha Sullivan of Hanson and Hanson DARE School Resource Officer William Frazier; W-H Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak, Adjustment Counselor Erin Monroe and Athletic Director Bob Rodgers as well as Ed Jacobs, the director of grants and sponsored projects from the Plymouth County DA’s office; Sandoval and Anna Dowd of the Brockton Area Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative — as well as a few community members. Member Maureen Leonard of WHRHS was unable to attend, so Symaniak provided an overview of past programs through the school.
Szymaniak echoed Sandoval’s message that the group wants to branch out into the community in its efforts to being the message of making good choices regarding drugs and alcohol that are already being addressed at the school level.
“We really hit the ground running in 2014 and I think we’ve managed to do a lot in a small amount of time,” he said. “This is an important group.”
Past programs have included the drug-free community survey Rodgers reviewed, the PhotoVoice program depicting students’ artistic representations of their substance abuse concerns, guest speakers for students and the community as well as the Hidden in Plain site mock-up of a teen bedroom and how drugs can be hidden from parents.
Szymaniak noted how he has had to attend the funerals of too many former students, including three recently in Scituate, where he used to teach.
Sandoval suggested the meetings could alternate between school and community-based meetings such as the one they are planning for the Hanson Library in October.
One parent at the meeting asked for a parents’ program on cell phone applications teens use to communicate about things they want to hide from parents.
“Rather than meeting parents when they’re in this desperation phase where they don’t know where to go, they don’t know where to turn, I think it’s important to be proactive,” she said.
Benton and Miksch reported that overdoses are statistically holding steady — from nine fatalities among 49 overdoses in Whitman in 2015 to three fatalities among 41 overdoses in 2016 and — so far this year — three fatalities among 19 overdoses.
“Before you are going to see a significant drop from 49 to, say, 25 or 30 it’s going to be three to five years,” Benton said. “This has been going on for several years. … Those are sobering numbers when you consider we’re a 14,000-15,000 community.”
Death certificates are not always clear as to whether opioid overdoses are a main cause of death, he noted.
“When you can go in and say of these 38 cases, all of them were overdoses, not some are pending, you can go to the governor and keep saying, ‘We need money,’” Benton said.
Sandoval said all 27 police departments in Plymouth County are on board, sharing their data for realtime reporting of overdoses. It has revealed that almost half of all overdoses are not happening in the towns where victims reside, a statistic that is helping get them the help they need via programs such as Project Outreach.
Miksch noted that the high mark for deaths for Hanson residents was 20 in 2015 — and it shocked him because only half those fatalities occurred in Hanson.
Both he and Benton also said overdose deaths ranged in age from teens to adults in their 60s.
Combined with East Bridgewater HOPE, offering informational meetings in Plymouth and East Bridgewater as well as Project Outreach’s goal to have an officer, counselor or both visit the home of overdoses within 24 hours with information on rehab services.
“There’s no judgment,” Miksch said of the program.
Jacobs said the national statistic for overdose deaths is 16 per 100,000. There were 41 among Plymouth County’s approximately 500,000 residents in 2013 and 80 in 2014.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid frequently originating in China and Mexico, is the game-changer police said because it is more powerful and takes more Narcan to counteract. Drug-sniffing dogs can’t smell fentanyl and it presents a danger to police as it can be absorbed through the skin.
Sandoval said there have been three overdoses at Brockton Hospital where fentanyl had been added to marijuana the victims were smoking.