SPRINGFIELD — Substance use disorder is an area of mental health that is often shrouded in shame and stigma. Springfield Mercy Medical Center has been working to treat the disorder through its addiction consult services program since 2018. Now, a $1.1 million grant will allow even more people to seek treatment without judgement.

According to the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, substance use disorder affected 48.7 million people aged 12 or older in the United States in 2022. The national Institute on Drug Abuse states that almost 108,000 persons nationwide died from drug-involved overdose in 2022. Mercy Medical Center President Dr. Robert Roose said it is, “a leading cause of preventable death.” He added, “Recovery is real. Treating addiction saves lives.”

Dr. Edna Rodriguez, director of behavioral health at Mercy Medical Center, said that when the addiction consult services program began in 2018, it provided a framework to treat people “with no stigma, no judgement, just love.” Mercy’s addiction consult services was one of the first such community hospital-based programs in the state. The program’s staff includes a medical director, physician assistant, a registered nurse specializing in substance use disorder, recovery coaches and behavioral health specialists, also known as licensed clinical social workers.

The grant, awarded by the state Department of Public Health, will provide funding to build out training and the internship program, said Maria Mead, a licensed clinical social worker working with the addiction consult services program. The internship program teaches students from Springfield College, Elms College and Westfield State University.

Mercy also can renew the grant through June 2032, potentially totaling $6.5 million in grant funding to support substance use disorder treatment.

“This is one of the ways we can invest,” state Rep. Orlando Ramos (D-Springfield) said at the June 5 announcement. “This is not a grant; this is an investment. Investing in loss of wages, investing in limited times going to the emergency room, investing in the community.” Referring to the funding, state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez (D-Springfield) said, “This is what happens when you have a delegation that cares.”

State Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield) said the term “it takes a village” is especially fitting when discussing substance abuse and treatment. He said, “The three most courageous words: I need help. It really matters who’s on the receiving end of that.” He said it is important that, “When someone comes through that door. We treat them holistically.” He added, “We’re still losing far too many people.”

Rates of substance use disorder and other mental health disorders have not returned to the levels seen before the coronavirus pandemic, Mead said. Instead, she said, “We’re still seeing folks who [now] realize COVID had an impact” on their mental health. Even so, she is confident that the community will “bounce back.”

Roose said, “Every person is worthy” and should have access to addiction consult services. “All health is paved through behavioral health. We’re all part of the same community.”