Lowell is an extremely diverse city located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. The 2016 Greater Lowell Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) publishes that the city of Lowell is very ethnically diverse with over 40% of its residents being non-white and over one-quarter being foreign-born. Language and culture barriers can often impact educational attainment, employment, and affluence. The city of Lowell has the highest poverty rate, at 19.1%, in the region, the lowest household median income at $49,164, and the highest unemployment rate of 6.5%. These factors can contribute to high rates of drug and alcohol abuse. In fact, the CHNA reports that Lowell has the highest rate of substance abuse treatment admissions in the region, coming in much higher than state averages at 2,145 per 100,000 population in 2011 compared to a state average of 1,590 per 100,000 population.
Opioid overdose death rates are double state rates in Lowell, with a rate of 43.3 fatalities per 100,000 in Lowell versus a state average of 20.7 per 100,000. In the first six months of 2016, there were 40 opioid overdose fatalities in Lowell, almost as many as the entire year of 2015, which was already double the amount of overdose deaths of the year before. Lowell saw higher rates of addiction treatment admissions than Massachusetts averages for alcohol, heroin, and “other” drugs, which includes methamphetamine, PCP, benzodiazepines, stimulants, hallucinogens, amphetamines, tranquilizers, sedatives, barbiturates, inhalants, and over-the-counter medications, in 2011 as well.
Lowell residents reported having fair or poor health at rates much higher than state averages; 21.8% of Lowell residents cited poor/fair health compared to a state average of 13.8%. Socioeconomic factors can play a role in mental health and issues related to substance abuse in a community.
Providers and area leaders look to improve the vitality and health of Lowell by improving access to care, removing barriers to treatment, and offering quality addiction treatment to residents.
Addiction treatment often begins with preventative measures, and these are generally run by community-based providers through state and federal grants. The Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Prevention Coalition (MOAPC) seeks to educate the public on the hazards of opioid abuse and misuse, funding groups such as Drug Free Greater Lowell. Providing resources, educational information, and treatment resources, this community-based coalition aims to improve the overall health of the community by addressing opioid abuse at its root.
Locally, the Lowell Public Health division of the City of Lowell works with community partners and organizations to educate the public and offer preventative resources. The Greater Lowell Health Alliance (GLHA) operates a collaborate Substance Abuse and Prevention (SUP) Task Force to minimize drug and alcohol use among youth and adults within the local community.
There are several prescription drug and unwanted medication drop boxes and kiosks throughout the Commonwealth where people can dispose of medications safely and anonymously to ensure that they are not misused or diverted. The City of Lowell has an unwanted medication disposal kiosk at the Lowell Police Department.
Families and individuals are also able to obtain the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan (naloxone) without a prescription through a standing order from a local pharmacy in the state of Massachusetts. The Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution (OEND) Program also offers more information and resources on how to save a life from an opioid overdose. Fatal opioid overdoses are down significantly in Lowell when you compare the first half of 2017 to the same time period of 2016; however, opioid-related incidents have spiked more than they had in three years prior – up to 387 overdoses in the first six months of 2017, the Lowell Sun publishes. This could be in part to the greater availability of naloxone; this means that overdoses are still increasing, but people are being revived more often. Lowell seems to be a hub for heroin and fentanyl abuse and trafficking as well, with residents from other communities coming to the area and overdosing.
The Community Opioid Outreach Program (COOP) is a partnership between Lowell first responders (police officers and firefighters) and outreach workers from the Lowell House. They aim to help people struggling from opioid addiction who have overdosed and survived get professional coaching, support, and treatment.
Within Massachusetts, addiction treatment is offered by community-based providers that are managed and supervised by the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS), a division of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). Local providers offer various services, such as:
Local providers, such as the Lowell Community Health Center (CHC) and the not-for-profit Lowell General Hospital, are licensed through BSAS to offer care and support to residents. To find a state-regulated addiction treatment provider in Lowell, residents can use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. Individuals simply input a local zip code and the type of service requested using the web-based tool. The Massachusetts Substance Abuse Helpline can also provide information on treatment services for Massachusetts residents at any time of day or night with both phone and web-based support available.
Towards the end of 2016, the Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, in conjunction with Lowell House, launched a program that would help get individuals arrested for first-time drug-related and nonviolent offenses into the Adult Diversion Alternatives Program (ADAP) before being arraigned. Instead of facing drug possession charges then, a person has the opportunity to receive counseling and addiction treatment programming to foster sobriety and recovery. The Lowell District Court also includes an adult drug court, which is a Massachusetts specialty court that allows eligible individuals charged with drug-related offenses who struggle with substance abuse and/or addiction to enter into a court-mandated treatment program instead of going to jail.
These diversion programs help individuals by offering reduced sentences or dropped charges after they complete the addiction treatment program as directed by the judge. Crimes are often committed due to a drug problem, and by treating the source of the issue, the entire community can benefit.
Another important component of addiction treatment is recovery and support for the whole family. Treatment programs often offer aftercare, recovery support, and alumni programs for people after completing rehab. These programs provide continuing support, encouragement, and fellowship with other individuals in recovery as well as sober activities and opportunities.
Groups like the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR) provides resources for addiction recovery support for residents within the Commonwealth. Self-help, 12-Step programs, such as those offered by New England Region of Narcotics Anonymous (NERNA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Central Service Committee of Eastern Mass, provide peer support during recovery. These groups meet locally in Lowell, helping to minimize relapse and provide a healthy sober social network.
Families are also impacted by substance abuse and addiction, and the Learn to Cope organization has local meetings in Lowell for families of individuals struggling with addiction and those in recovery. The Massachusetts Al-Anon and Alateen also provide support for adolescents, families, and loved ones who are impacted by another person’s drug and/or alcohol abuse.