North Shore Community College Lynn Campus (Spenser R. Hasak)
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North Shore Community College receives $640K grant to combat opioid epidemic

LYNN — North Shore Community College has received a $640,000 federal grant to combat the opioid crisis.

NSCC was the only recipient of funding from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) in the New England region, which awarded $12 million to 16 institutions nationwide. 

The funding is crucial in Lynn, which has the unwelcome distinction of being among the leaders in the state in overdose deaths. Last year, the city had 54 overdose deaths, according to the Lynn Police Department. 

Only four Massachusetts cities — Boston, Lowell, Springfield and Worcester — had more in 2018, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. 

The college will use the funds for its community-based training program that prepares students to become behavioral health paraprofessionals focused on opioid and other substance use disorders. Part of the training, which includes addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services, will focus on children, adolescents and transitional-age youth. 

"NSCC is grateful to have received this award to help combat the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth," said NSCC President Patricia A. Gentile in a statement. "Bringing our expertise in educating and training paraprofessionals for the front line workforce will add great value to the fight to prevent the spread of addiction, as well as treat and help our neighbors recover from substance abuse." 

Along with funding NSCC students in the Addiction Counseling Certificate program, students in Community Health Worker, Child/Youth Advocacy, and Recovery Coach training pathways will receive enhanced addiction-related training. 

"NSCC has been offering addiction-related coursework since 1976, but never has it been more critical to ensure that students in all our human services disciplines have addiction-specific training," said Steve Chisholm, NSCC's addiction program coordinator, professor and project director, in a statement.

"This is a huge boon for both our community and students. We will train 140 students over the course of the three-year project." 

Despite the city's grim statistics, overdoses have decreased in Lynn for the past two years. There were 485 overdoses in 2018 and 54 deaths, down from 504 ODs and 70 deaths in 2017, according to stats provided by Lynn Police Lt. Michael Kmiec. 

Through September of this year, there have been 299 ODs, a 24 percent decrease from the 394 through the same time period last year. Deaths over that time have declined 16 percent, from 44 to 37, according to the police department. 

"(You're) certainly encouraged every time you see the reduction and it's certainly encouraging to see less deaths," Kmiec said. "(I'd) like to believe that the message of the dangers of opioids is getting out there and you have less people abusing." 

Contributing factors to the decrease may be that each police cruiser carries Narcan, or Naloxone, the lifesaving overdose drug, and the creation of the department's Behavioral Health Unit about two years ago, Kmiec said. 

Following arrests, the Lynn Police Drug Task Force refers as many people as possible to the unit, which works to help people battling addiction get into treatment, Kmiec said. 

The department shifted its approach in 2014, when it became more proactive in terms of trying to help people with substance abuse issues before they were arrested or incarcerated, Kmiec said. 

"I think it's something we've been dealing with for years," Kmiec said. "Even prior to the opioid overdoses becoming a nationwide epidemic, it was something we were seeing (in Lynn) quite regularly." 

NSCC plans to partner and recruit students from community-based organizations, such as the Lynn Community Health Center, Beth Israel Lahey Health's Behavioral Health Division, Bridgewell, and Eliot Community Human Services.

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