NEW Health, Community Members Form North End Coalition to Combat Substance Use

On Monday, April 22, Residents and community partners held a meeting at North End Waterfront Health on Hanover Street to address the growing substance use and misuse issues currently plaguing the North End community. The latest Healthy Boston Report issued by the Boston Public Health Commission shows that substance misuse mortality has increased for opioids – including fentanyl – in the last three years. The North End has four school locations and numerous playgrounds where children may be exposed to dirty needles left on the ground and intoxicated or high individuals. 

Sarah Coughlin, Director of the Charlestown Coalition, presented to the group on her experiences forming a coalition in Charlestown, which now has a staff of four and includes 75 community partners. Coughlin discussed strategies to prevent substance use which focus on prevention and harm reduction. The Charlestown Coalition accomplishes this through alternative activities and skill building, education and social marketing, evidence-based life skills, decreasing access (Rx take back days), overdose reversal (Narcan), navigation/access to treatment and decreasing stigma. 

Mary Wright R.N., Health Educator at NEW Health was present at the meeting. She stated that while the health center does some good work with children in the schools and the Nazzaro Center, more prevention and education must be done to make a lasting impact on this opioid epidemic. 

Officer Ted Boyle of the Boston Police Department was also on hand; he echoed Wright and added that the police must leverage partnerships within the community to solve issues affecting the community. 

Local realtor and lifelong resident, Toni Gilardi, conveyed her experiences out walking the streets of the North End every day. Gilardi sees the drug hot spots and those affected by addiction; she recognizes that it is not only residents that are affected but non-residents who bring substances into our community. 

The newly formed North End Coalition identified three groups to be the focus of their efforts in the neighborhood: pre-teens and teens; adults affected struggling with or affected by addiction; and non-residents bringing substances to the neighborhood. 

Norma Reppucci, another lifelong North End resident, is the SUDS director at NEW Health in the North End and Charlestown. Reppucci developed a program that integrates behavioral health and substance use disorder (SUDS) treatment into primary care; a program that now serves as a model of best practices for other health centers to adopt and implement. While she is committed to treating those affected by addiction, she sees prevention as the first step in decreasing the growth of substance use. Treatment is confidential, and patients’ primary care physicians administer medication assisted treatment. 

The North End Coalition is currently seeking funding for the creation of a director position; one which they feel is of vital importance to the future success of the coalition. Meanwhile, NEW Health CEO, Jim Luisi announced that they are currently recruiting for an outreach/community navigator to work under the new Coalition Director. 

Individuals and organizations interested in contributing to the North End Coalition are encouraged to contact Norma Reppucci at 857-238-1182

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