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Community Town Hall Organized to Discuss Crisis in Opioid Addiction and Overdoses

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Local physicians and healthcare professionals team up with police, city officials, and with people and families suffering from substance abuse issues to take action.

As deaths from opioid overdoses continue to surge, local physicians have joined forces with others in the community to hold a Town Hall discussion about the crisis.

It will be free, open to all, and held at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford on June 22, Wednesday, starting at 6:30 pm.

It will include refreshments, musical entertainment, and a panel of experts, including doctors, addiction specialists, police department representatives, city officials, and people and families who have been directly impacted by the tragedy of opioid addiction.

“There were 46 overdose deaths in 2015 in New Bedford and we are on a pace to almost double that in 2016,” said Dr. Craig Longo, an emergency department physician at St. Luke’s and co-director of the newly-formed Physicians to Prevent Opioid Abuse (PPOA). “The deaths only represent a fraction of the epidemic. In addition to those who die, many hundreds of overdoses are arriving each year and are being revived by paramedics or emergency department staff.”

The deaths are occurring at a pace of about one a week in the St. Luke’s emergency department. “These are young people who should have bright futures, but instead end up overdosing and dying, or ending up alive but neurologically devastated,” said Dr. Longo.

PPOA, which is organizing the Town Hall along with the New Bedford Health Department, is a group of about two dozen local physicians across various medical specialties, from oncology to orthopedics, who are concerned by this crisis and are working to try to contain it.

The Town Hall program will include a session after the expert panel for the public to ask questions.

“Come educate yourself about this crisis and what you can do to protect yourself and your family,” said Dr. Michael Rocha, a cardiologist with Hawthorn Medical Associates and co-founder with Dr. Longo of PPOA. “Every family is at risk. We really need to remove the stigma surrounding this, and start speaking openly about the dangers, because opioid addiction can strike any family.”

Among the speakers will be Bill Scannell, a local lawyer who will discuss his own family’s encounter with opioid addiction tragedy.

Dr. Jennifer Pope, the chair of the St. Luke’s emergency department, will provide an overview of the current state of the opioid epidemic. Dr. Pope’s ED physicians are the front line for opioid addiction, and her team of St. Luke’s ED physicians and social workers collaborate in stabilizing acute overdoses, but then also in trying to help patients and families broker addiction treatment programs.

“Our goal at the St. Luke’s emergency department is make sure patients are safe and that they can get help. We work with a dedicated team of social workers to offer patients and families the services and resources they need,” said Dr. Pope.

St. Luke’s ED social workers at the Town Hall will also speak about how to recognize addiction / dependency and will review local resources available. Representatives of centers like Seven Hills Behavioral Health, Clean Slate, and Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction (PAACA) will also be present to discuss treatment options. Representatives of the New Bedford police department and other first responders will discuss their own role in this crisis, as well as the role of the life-saving opioid-reversal agent Naloxone (Narcan).

Physicians at the June 22 Town Hall will also review changes mandated by new Massachusetts laws championed by Governor Charlie Baker, which limit the amount of narcotics that can be prescribed by physicians that do not specialize in pain management.

The Town Hall will also include a presentation by Dr. Alison Gorski, a pain management specialist, who will review the role of opioids and non-opioid alternatives in managing chronic pain.

The program will also feature performances by Craig DeMelo, a versatile, passionate and eclectic local singer and songwriter, and Matt Ganem, an accomplished poet who writes and raps about his experiences while in active heroin addiction and in recovery afterwards.

DeMelo’s live shows have made a name for him throughout New England.

Ganem is the author of a collection of poetry called “The Shadow of an Addict”, which won the 2013 Mass Poetry Awards Best Poetry Book of the Year, and he has been nominated by The Boston Phoenix as the Best Poet in Boston. Ganem also works as the Northeast Regional Coordinator for the Banyan Treatment Center, a Florida-based addiction treatment program, and he serves as Radio Host for Banyan Recovery Radio.

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