Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition (CSAC)
The Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition (CSAC) works to reduce substance abuse 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, 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 opiates, compared to 50% for Boston. To address these challenges, a community coalition was formed to reduce substance abuse 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.
CSAC works to make treatment accessible and successful, and to strengthen protective factors and decrease risk factors for families, youth, and young adults through education, prevention, and intervention strategies.
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 opiod overdoses decreased by 44% between 2004 and 2009.
- Between calendar years 2003 and 2008, Charlestown’s drug related deaths decreased 78%.
In 2012, the Coalition:
Completed assessment activities using the CDC-sponsored Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP). The priorities have been chosen and the community continues to work on action and implementation plans.
- Was awarded a five-year DRUG Free Communities Grant.
- Spent the year establishing partnerships, looking at best practices, creating documents, protocols and procedures for approval and implementation of a Charlestown Drug Court.
- Spent the year creating a community-based website for parents that provides them with thoughtful content on how to enhance communication skills with their youth around drugs and alcohol. Work went into designing the site and its content, including filming video clips of local parents, youth, professionals and individuals in recovery.
In other highlights
- The Charlestown Opiate Reduction & Education Coordinator provided 119 community linkages to 72 substance users.
- 580 vials of prescription medication and 53 vials of narcotic medications were collected at a Prescription Drug Take Back day arranged for the entire community.
- 600 surveys that had been administered and analyzed were used to inform the Coalition’s strategic plan and application for the SAMHSA Drug Free Communities Grant Application.
- 250 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 10th graders received evidence-based prevention curriculum in the middle schools, including information on current trends such as prescription drug abuse.
MGH Health Assessment of Community Now Going On
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.”
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.
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.
Phone: 617 726-0059