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PALMER — An ad hoc group made up of several community members met on Feb. 27 to discuss how to address opioid use and addiction in Palmer.

The group discussed how to best use funding from the settlement of legal cases involving opioid manufacturers, to which Massachusetts had been a party. According to a dashboard created to transparently track each town’s spending of its share of the settlement funds, Palmer has received $71,710 of the $84,000 it was slated to receive as of September 2023. The dashboard can be found at tinyurl.com/ypjwb3d9.

Palmer Police Sgt. David Burns said former Town Manager Ryan McNutt had been working on getting the remaining money released from the general fund, but since his departure in October 2023, there had been no additional updates, just “a lot of standstill.” Quaboag Hills Substance Use Alliance Community Engagement Coordinator Abaigeal Duda commented that a standstill was better than the funds being used for other purposes.

Duda said there are other cases making their way through the courts and the town’s total will likely increase.

Like Palmer, Duda said most communities have not spent any of the funding they have received. Part of the holdup in spending the money is uncertainty about how it should be spent. Many communities are seeking public input. Duda said Monson had a public forum to which “dozens and dozens of people showed up.” CHD Co-Response Crisis Clinician Desiree Knurek said Ludlow has discussed soliciting information from people with lived experiences regarding opioids to determine what services would be helpful.

Duda said prevention using law enforcement or training teachers on prevention techniques or curricula would both be eligible ways to spend the settlement funding. Baystate Wing Hospital Assistant Nurse Manager Ashley Wilson asked if increased mental health services for prevention would be eligible.

Duda said she thought it would be, but to seek confirmation from the state. Treatment or services that can help people access resources are also viable ways to spend the money. For example, she said a program that helps people with addiction get a job would be eligible, as would transportation to treatment sites or support for new mothers with substance use struggles. Duda urged the team members to get creative with ideas for how to address addiction in their town.

The Griswold Center Clinical Program Manager Danielle Olive said the center had planned to distribute harm-reduction kits, but while the materials were stocked and are available, the “momentum” for the initiate waned and they did not know how to get the kits into the hands of those in need.

Ware Prevention and Community Health Director Gail Gramarosa noted that volunteers began handing out naloxone, a medicine that can reverse opioid overdoses, at Grenville Park, where a monthly food distribution initiative is staged. By piggybacking off an event that draws people in, she said they can meet people where they are and distribute the medicine discretely, reducing stigma. About 20 boxes of naloxone are given out each month.

Wilson asked about needle disposal options. Burns said there were none in town, but Tapestry Health accepts drop offs from the Police Department. Palmer High School resource officer Nathaniel Pagan said there is already a medicine drop off at the police department and suggested locating a needle drop-off there, but Wilson pointed out that people may not want to deposit evidence of illegal behavior at the police station. Palmer High School Assistant Principal Amy Herring asked if injecting opioids was still common with pills and inhalation methods available. Burns confirmed needle usage is still “very common.”

Palmer Public Library Director Stephanie Maher offered the library as an alternative location for a needle drop-off and harm-reduction kits pick-up. Duda noted that the sharps boxes and disposal charges can be paid for with the settlement funds.

Wilson asked about a program in which members of the Police Department ride to the hospital with patients who have overdosed. Both Burns and officer Nick Lamb, who also attended the meeting, are members of the Drug Addiction and Recovery Team, and Burns confirmed that if a patient consents, DART officers will accompany them.

Herring urged the others to focus on prevention and said students are often impacted by friends or loved ones who have overdosed. She said the group should think “globally” about how to prevent opioid use.

Duda said Palmer was a suitable candidate for a Drug-Free Community Coalition. The Drug-Free Communities program is focused on collaboration among schools, various levels of government, community leaders, churches and other public and private nonprofit agencies which work together to prevent and reduce youth substance use, in part by addressing factors in a community that lead to it. Becoming a Drug-Free Community makes municipalities eligible for federal grant funding.

The group also discussed Community Strong Wellness, a collaborative program between the library, Police Department and a CHD mental health clinician to offer resources and help with substance use and several of the issues that go along with it, such as housing stability, mental health concerns, financial assistance and health insurance questions.

Burns said there is “clearly a need” for these “office hours,” as nine people came the last time the services were offered. Gramarosa said the library made sense as location for this type of program. “When you’re there and people are nice to you, it’s warming and creates a sense of community.” She also said it reduces the stigma of walking in somewhere to get help because people visit the library for a number of purposes.

Burns said the program addresses a part of the population that may not otherwise interact with law enforcement and allows people to connect with them and offer help. Maher said most of her staff were trained in how to administer naloxone. Burns added that he was attempting to get a CPR training course underway.

A Community Strong Wellness team will be available on Thursday, March 7, and again on Thursday, March 21, from 1-4 p.m. in the Palmer Public Library’s Three Rivers room.

The group will continue meeting on the last Wednesday of each month at 2:30 p.m. in the Palmer High School library.

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