Worcester Business Journal Online
Date: 2/15/15

When Kelly McCausland was teaching yoga and mindfulness at rehabilitation facilities, she had a lot of interactions with patients who believed in their sobriety, only to succumb to their addiction months or even weeks later.

When someone is standing on the steps of one of the local rehabs and looks me in the eye, and says, 'Kelly, I'm not going back to it,' he really believes it, and I know he believes it, but then he goes back to his hometown, and within a month I'm reading an obituary, McCausland said.

With the belief that yoga and mindfulness are essential to recovery for drug addicts and alcoholics, McCausland established Prana Recovery Centers, a Marlborough drug and alcohol treatment center focused on relapse prevention. The program is centered around six pillars of wellness, including mindfulness, yoga and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, to name a few.

Prana is a new player in the addiction services nonprofit world, but it's an example of a program developed in response to the uphill battle against opioids being fought in Massachusetts and across the country. Healthcare, family services and youth development nonprofits in Central Massachusetts have added staff and expanded programming as a response to the crippling epidemic.

Unintentional opioid overdose deaths rose 65 percent between 2012 and 2014, according to the state public health department. Preliminary data tracking the first nine months of 2015 indicates that the epidemic's growth is showing no signs of slowing down.

The start of a crisis

Opioid is an overarching term referring to medications that relieve pain. The issues with abuse and overdose came in the late 1990s when opioid drugs like morphine, oxycodone and codeine became popular for medical treatment and eventually started being overused, said Charles Faris, president and CEO of Worcester healthcare nonprofit Spectrum Health Systems, Inc.

As patients got more and more addicted to these prescription drugs, drug dealers on the street exploited the opportunity to provide the same high at a fraction of the cost by making heroin cheap, Faris said. This contributed to the rise of the opioid crisis.

Spectrum has always treated a disproportionate amount of opiate users, but Faris said the numbers have been growing over the last decade. In response to higher demand for its services, Spectrum added six new outpatient facilities over the past two and a half years and will open three more this coming summer, though Faris would not say where. The company opened a new 250-bed inpatient facility in Westborough last year.

Demand has been off the charts at all of Spectrum's six new outpatient facilities, Faris said. For example, at the Leominster branch, he anticipated serving 200 patients in the first seven months, but it actually has been about 320. He mentioned Spectrum's North Adams and Saugus facilities as others where demand is high.

It seems like everytime we open a new facility – especially an outpatient facility – [there's a lot of demand], he said.

Targeting youth

Youth Opportunities Upheld Inc. (Y.O.U. Inc.), a youth services nonprofit in Worcester, has traditionally been a treatment organization, in place to help youth and adolescents deal with their issues after they manifest themselves. But the opioid crisis and the recent availability of grant funds from the state to help combat it has caused the nonprofit's leadership to think about expanding offerings, Chief Operating Officer Paul Kelleher said.

Most people who die from opioid-related overdoses are between the ages of 18 and 25, Kelleher said, and because of this, it's important to teach kids about the dangers of drug use while they're young.

During the high school years, you really have to impact them, so they have the values and awareness to use when they move onto college, Kelleher said.

The nonprofit recently developed a program for opiate abuse prevention in high school athletes.

These kids are considered at-risk because they sometimes have to take pain medications after an injury. Kelleher said Y.O.U. Inc. also created an educational program for parents to know what signs to look for. They are currently in process of figuring out how they'll finance these programs.

With this initiative, let's see if we can't get out something that's more community prevention-based and develop a project that would help, so we're not down the river pulling the bodies out – so to speak – but instead up the river trying to prevent people from falling in, Kelleher said.

Nonprofits expanding missions

The Bridge of Central Massachusetts, a Worcester nonprofit serving those with challenges in mental health, development, and acquired brain injury, was recently awarded a contract from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health to develop a program for homeless people with both mental health and substance abuse issues. The contract currently provides enough funds to help 11-12 people find housing, and the nonprofit is currently looking for more funding, said Lorie Martiska, vice president of advancement.

We find housing for people first, and then work to connect them with needed treatment, services, benefits and skills to help them successfully retain their housing and achieve self-sufficiency, Martiska said.

Martiska said The Bridge of Central Massachusetts is involved with the city's Opioid Task Force, the Substance Abuse Workgroup for the Worcester Community Health Improvement Plan, the Mental Health Workgroup and others.

Indeed, combatting the opioid crisis has become a community-based effort, resulting in private-public partnerships and even state-federal action. In March of last year, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. established a Central Mass Task Force to bring together law enforcement, health professionals, government officials and others to strategize.

At the drug court in Dudley, Southbridge nonprofit Harrington Hospital provides court participants with individualized treatment plans and counseling as well as drug testing.

The court held its first graduation last June.

If anything good has come out of this epidemic, it's that the stigma surrounding addiction is being addressed and maybe even slightly reduced, Faris said.

How do we eradicate it? We don't. How do we get it down to a level where it's not killing four people a day? That's what the goal has to be, he said.