Warwick groups receive opioid prevention grants

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The Kent County and South County Prevention Coalitions awarded $362,286 in federal grants to community groups, organizations and municipalities from throughout both regions during a press conference held at the Norwood branch of the Boys and Girls Club of Warwick Wednesday morning.

The goal of the grants, awarded via the State Opioid Response and the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), is to “fund innovative community initiatives and activities to reduce opioid use and overdose and support those impacted by this crisis,” according to Heidi Driscoll, regional director of the South County Prevention Coalition.

Among the recipients were multiple Warwick-based organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club ($38,682.66 to hire a social worker for its three branches); Mentor Rhode Island ($10,241 to supplement its budgetary needs); Bridgemark Addiction Recovery Services ($10,550 to set up community forums at places of worship and provide training to community members on education and treatment resources); and Friends Way ($8,000 to set up peer-based support groups specifically for children and caregivers who have lost someone as a result of drug use).

“Together, I believe we can make a difference. No individual agency can solve this crisis, but together we’re going to make a difference,” said Kathy Sullivan, director of the Kent County Regional Prevention Coalition.

Speakers at the event included representatives from state agencies and those working on Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Overdose Task Force, which came together in 2015 and has been developing strategies to promote prevention, respond to those in direct need and encourage recovery for those afflicted with addiction issues.

“We have had some positive results of that work,” said Tom Coderre, who co-chairs the governor’s task force. “We have seen a decrease of 49 percent in opioid prescribing in our state as a result of that strategic plan. That’s incredible. In no other public health intervention do we see those kinds of results. And we saw that result because the community came together.”

Coderre is a recovering addict since May 15, 2003, which he feels is an important element that contributes to his work in the field.

“I think that’s more poignant and more important because it proves and shows that recovery is possible for everyone,” he said.

Recovery was possible, too, for Michael Fry, who spoke at the event as the assistant manager for Anchor Recovery’s Mobile Outreach Recovery Efforts (MORE) program. But more than his role in this field of addiction, Fry too was once firmly in the grasp of addiction – one that started with experimenting with marijuana in high school and progressed all the way to a full-blown heroin addiction.

“Before June 6 of 2012, I was physically, spiritually and emotionally bankrupt,” he said. “My life was devoid of anything worth living. I had reduced to the procuring, selling and using of drugs by, quite frankly, any means necessary.”

Fry’s addiction landed him in prison in Pennsylvania on June 5, 2012, which he said gave him the chance to wean off the drugs and take a look at himself.

“I didn’t like what I saw, quite frankly,” he said. “I didn’t like the person that I had become.”

With family in Rhode Island, Fry moved to South County and hasn’t looked back. He relishes being able to help others who went through similar experiences. He noted that the drug scene has become much more dangerous than when he was using, even just seven or so years ago.

“Things have changed,” he said. “When I was using drugs and you bought cocaine, you got cocaine. When you bought Percocet, you got Percocet. When you bought Xanax, you got Xanax. Now, you don’t know what you’re getting.”

But on the other side, he said, recovery and prevention services – especially in Rhode Island – have seen a dramatic change for the better.

“These resources weren’t available to me when I was using back then … When the cops came to my house, they definitely weren’t there to help me. It’s great that these resources are available,” he said. “Maybe if some of these were in place when I was a kid – I was one of those at-risk teens that some of these programs are addressing – maybe if I had more awareness or maybe if I had heard about prevention in summer camp or in an after-school program or had been taught better social and emotional skills to deal with stress, I wouldn’t have turned to drugs, and maybe things would have turned out differently.”

Rebecca Boss, director of BHDDH, said when considering addiction from a big picture, it is an overwhelming issue – one that claimed 314 Rhode Islanders last year. Shrinking it down into a smaller, compartmentalized issue with individualized solutions for each unique community, she said, is the key to beating the epidemic.

“We’ve talked a lot in the Overdose Task Force about the importance of communities,” Boss said. “We know communities coming together is what’s really going to help us move the needle even farther than it has already been moved.”

“I applaud the work that all of you are doing not only to combat the disease of addiction, but to remove the stigma associated with that disease,” Mayor Joseph Solomon said. “Only by continuing our collective efforts to address this crisis and to work to give those affected the tools and resources to address the underlying issues that lead to addiction will we be able to successfully and on a daily basis address this war that we as a state and a community face.”

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