Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition (CSAC)

The Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition (CSAC) works to reduce substance use disorders by changing community norms and attitudes, increasing the presence of law enforcement, advocating for additional treatment resources, and engaging in primary prevention within the public schools.

In 2002, the rates of substance abuse-related hospitalizations and drug-related deaths among residents were 50% higher in Charlestown than in Boston overall. In 2004, the majority (70%) of Charlestown admissions to publicly-funded treatment facilities were for heroin and other opioids, compared to 50% for Boston. To address these challenges, a community coalition was formed to reduce substance misuse by utilizing existing community resources, organizing programs to respond to identified needs, and harnessing the community’s energy and commitment to create a safe, healthy environment in Charlestown.

The Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition works to increase access to and resources for successful treatment and recovery from substance use disorders (SUDS). The Coalition also strengthens protective factors and decreases risk factors to prevent substance use and misuse for youth, young adults and families, through education, prevention, and intervention strategies.  The coalition has 24 active members representing 12 community sectors.

CSAC’s efforts have contributed to the following outcomes:

  • Emergency Medical Services responses for heroin overdoses decreased 62% from 2003 to 2010.  
  • Hospital discharges from opioid overdoses decreased by 44% between 2004 and 2009.
  • Between calendar years 2003 and 2008, Charlestown’s drug-related deaths decreased 78%.


In 2013, 

  • CSAC hired social marketing firm to research and develop a social marketing campaign designed to prevent youth prescription drug use and misuse. Fifteen youth were instrumental in working with the firm to come up with Turn It Around, Charlestown.  The campaign launched on 6/1/2013 with billboards, stickers, shirts, during the Charlestown Take Back Day. More than 1,000 postcards, 5,000 information cards, 500 t-shirts, and 2,000 stickers were produced and distributed.
  • A Community Health Worker (CHW) worked with 150 clients during this reporting period making 350 referrals to various substance use disorder treatment facilities in and around Boston; There are now 10 active Drug Court Clients out of the Charlestown Drug Court, which offers treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
  • 450 middle school students received LifeSkills, an evidence-based substance use prevention curricula at the Warren Prescott and Edwards Middle Schools. AllStars is taught to the entire 5th grade class at the Warren Prescott K-8, and LifeSkills was taught to all 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Additionally, the LifeSkills curriculum was taught in four health classes at the Clarence Edwards Middle School. CSAC has trained 22 volunteer community members to teach these prevention programs.
  • CSAC added more community members who attend monthly steering committee meetings. We began the interview process for the Family Support Circle position, who will increase communication and collaboration among Charlestown providers when dealing with high risk youth.
  • CSAC partnered with the Boston Public Health Commission to host seven community NARCAN trainings for 105 residents. These community trainings inform opioid users, their families, and their friends on how to prevent and recognize an opioid overdose and what to do if one occurs. The training covers the importance of calling 911, how to perform rescue breathing and how to administer nasal naloxone.


MGH Health Assessment of Community Now Going On

January 12, 2012

A new health assessment being led by the neighborhood and conducted by Mass General Hospital (MGH) has attracted a lot of interest in the community and is generating a great deal of discussion.

“It’s been exciting so far in Charlestown,” said Leslie Aldrich, associate director for the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement. “We’ve done this in the past, but it’s been less rigorous and it wasn’t so much a community-driven process. To have a community process driven by the public will be a first and it will be very neat.”

Under a mandate by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that came about due to the new federal health care law, all non-profit hospitals have to conduct thorough Community Health Assessments (CHAs) in the communities where they are present. Those assessments have to be in strong collaboration with the community and must involve numerous meetings and community approval of the final results.

The purpose is to identify community health priorities, and then develop a plan to attack those priorities.

Under the IRS mandate, MGH must conduct the assessment and finish it within the same taxable year. With that in mind, MGH has embarked on a very ambitious process in Charlestown, Chelsea and Revere – a process that includes meetings, small group interviews, quality of life surveys, and deep community outreach.

So far, though, Charlestown is pulling the cart in the process.

“Charlestown is leading because they started first,” said Aldrich. “Charlestown’s process will look different than the other communities. They’re really rallying around the large groups and the community meetings here. It’s been a great process so far in Charlestown.”

The first order of business last fall was appointing an Assessment Committee, which was done separately from the neighborhood’s existing coalition. That process took some time, but yielded a great group of volunteers led by Tom Cunha.

Aldrich said Charlestown’s appointed committee for the process held a kick-off in October and then had a very successful forum on Dec. 1st.

“There were more than 150 people there and we asked the questions about quality of life and what needs to be addressed in the neighborhood,” said Aldrich.

Later this month, the committee will hold another forum, and in the meantime MGH is moving forward with other means of outreach – including a very in-depth quality of life survey for Charlestown.

“We’ll be going ahead with the quality of life survey soon,” she said. “Then, we’ll do focus groups within the community. We are going to reach out to groups that don’t typically come out to events and forums. We’ll ask what has prevented the community from moving forward. Is it the political structure? Is it new ethnic communities coming in? Is it companies coming and going so often?”

In April, Aldrich said all of the data collected will be presented to the neighborhood and the community will have a chance to set health issue priorities for MGH.

Finally, the MGH trustees must review the plan and approve it.

The process must be completed by September, which is the end of the taxable year for MGH. Aldrich said she expects the MGH trustees to review the plan in August.

“The one real positive thing for us is having the relationships and trust already built in Charlestown, Revere and Chelsea with our existing coalitions,” said Aldrich. “That is very big and an advantage that takes about a year’s worth of work away.”

How can Charlestown become a healthier place?

There will be a community meeting on Dec. 1, where organizers hope to hear answers to that question. The meeting is part of a community health assessment, sponsored by the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and coordinated, in part, by the Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition.

Charlestown Candlelight Vigil

Families touched by substance abuse will gather together in strength in Hayes Square on Saturday, September 22 at 6:30 p.m. for the fourth annual Charlestown Candlelight Vigil. The purpose of the Vigil is to remember those who lost their battle with drugs and alcohol and to give hope to those still struggling with addiction.

Sarah Coughlin

Phone: 617 726-0059