SALEM — Boston Medical Center researchers are among four recipients to receive grant money from a federal research study aimed to cut opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent over the next three years.
As part of the $350 million grant, BMC was awarded $89 million in April and selected 16 communities across Massachusetts to participate in the study, including Salem and Gloucester.
North Shore Community Health, a patient-centered medical home with three family practice sites in Peabody, Salem and Gloucester, was chosen to be part of the study.
Margaret A. Brennan, MPH, President and CEO of North Shore Community Health, said she’s eager to get moving on this initiative with her team.
“Forty percent is aggressive, but I think it’s doable,” said Brennan, further describing the initiative as “daunting but exciting.”
Having worked with NSCH in the past, Brennan said BMC reached out and selected Salem and Gloucester to be two of the 16 communities.
For their long-term goal, Brennan said they’re on a mission to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths, specifically in the communities they serve.
More than 1 in 4 Massachusetts residents reported knowing someone who died from an opioid overdose, according to a survey from WBUR.
“I want to make a difference in this epidemic,” Brennan said. “I think we’ll get there.”
The primary concern right now for NSCH is to spread awareness of the work they’re doing and get more people engaged in care, as Brennan said they have the capacity.
Founded more than 40 years ago, NSCH serves more than 300 patients across three location sites, providing medical, dental and substance abuse treatment as well as behavioral health services.
Brennan said they also provide school-based health centers at Salem High School and Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, as well as behavioral health care at Collins Middle School, Nathaniel Bowditch School, Bates Elementary School and Bentley Academy Charter School.
Their office-based opioid treatment program, termed the MAT program, uses Suboxone medication to help fight opioid-withdrawal symptoms.
As of now, Brennan said it’s still to early to know what the grant money will be used for in Salem and Gloucester.
“We need to develop a robust model of care to help people get the treatment they need to get their lives back,” added Brennan. She said it’s still to early to know where the grant money will go in Salem and Gloucester.
Once plans are finalized over the following months, NSCH will have frequent check-ins. “We’ll need to demonstrate we’re making a difference,” she said. “It speaks volumes to how important this is to all of us. It’s got to stop.”
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains increased significantly in 2017 with more than 70,000 overdoses.
But as Brennan described, “The real work happens at the state and local level.”
In Massachusetts, the state Department of Public Health counted 1,974 estimated and confirmed overdose deaths in 2018.
The $350 million HEALing Communities Study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse. Grants were also awarded to Columbia University in New York City, The Ohio State University and the University of Kentucky.
Dr. Damian Archer, chief medical officer at NSCH, said they have the capacity to provide critical treatment services to those in need. “Anyone who needs care can have access to it,” he said.
“In many ways, we’re already doing some of the work that Boston Medical Center is looking to expand across the state,” Archer added.
Originally scheduled for early May, Boston Medical Center will soon randomize the selected 16 cities and towns across the state, labeling them as either control or intervention communities.
For three years, control communities will receive funds, training and technical assistance to implement or expand office-based addiction treatment that delivers medication for opioid use disorder in a primary care setting.
As for intervention communities, Archer said they’ll receive the same resources plus additional expert facilitation and funds for more comprehensive approaches to reduce deaths.
It’s yet to be seen what rolls out, Archer added.
When it comes to addiction, Archer said, “It’s difficult to use the word successful. But improving their physical health can be demonstrative.”
Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.