Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic has had a devastating effect on our communities. The crisis is not only about overdoses, but also shared needles, which contribute to high rates of HIV and Hepatitis C transmissions. Our police and first responders are in danger of needle sticks on the job, and the general public is at risk from discarded needles left in unsafe places. The opioid crisis also creates a much greater need for foster care for children whose parents are fighting addiction.

United Way of Pioneer Valley has become involved where we can by connecting groups and task forces that are making some important advances in this field. Because of the relationships we have developed, we have come to understand the value of harm reduction.

We at United Way of Pioneer Valley feel strongly that harm reduction techniques such as a syringe exchange are essential components of the opioid epidemic treatment continuum, and we plan to do our share to ensure that the community receives education about the definition of harm reduction and its positive effects. Harm reduction can make some people uncomfortable because of the stigma that still follows addiction. It is important to note that syringe exchanges serve as a gateway to make a positive connection with a drug user, so when that person is ready for treatment, they have a place to get help.

We must work together to employ every available technique to treat this epidemic. A syringe exchange program was passed on February 28, 2018 in Springfield. It would be a smart, compassionate way to help people struggling with addiction, while making our entire community safer.

2015/2016 Opioid-Related Deaths by County

Hampden: 104/135

Hampshire: 16/36

Franklin: 19/15

Berkshire: 33/37

United Way of Pioneer Valley works with the following local Task Forces & Organizations on opioid issues:

Hampden-Wilbraham Partners for Youth

Monson Substance Abuse Community Partnership

Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative

Springfield Coalition for Opioid Overdose Prevention (SCOOP) 

Hampden County Addiction Taskforce (HCAT)

Baystate Health

Mercy Medical Center

Tapestry Health

Center for Human Development

East Longmeadow Youth Safety Committee

Gandara Center

West Springfield Care Coalition

Harm Reduction

Harm reduction focuses on promoting scientifically proven ways of mitigating health risks associated with drug use and other high risk behaviors, including condom distribution, access to sterile syringes, medications for opioid dependence such as methadone and buprenorphine, and overdose prevention. These approaches, although backed by scientific evidence, often bring controversy with use because of the stigma still attached to addiction use disorders.

For drug users, harm reduction recognizes that many drug users are either unable or unwilling to stop or are not ready for treatment at a given time. Harm reduction programs focus on limiting the risks associated with unsafe drug use, including HIV transmission, viral hepatitis, and death from overdose. Naloxone (Narcan) is an overdose-reversing drug considered part of harm reduction methods.