Mayor Domenic Sarno

With more than $7.2 million in opioid settlement money coming its way, the city of Springfield has announced several new initiatives to help first responders and city employees better address the public safety, medical and mental health problems caused by the opioid epidemic.

The city is receiving the funds through the settlement agreement that the Attorney General’s Office helped secure from several of the nation’s largest drug distributors for their roles in the opioid epidemic. Of the $525 million the state is receiving, more than $210 million will directly benefit municipalities.

Springfield will receive its portion in installments through 2038, and Mayor Domenic Sarno recently announced more than a dozen uses for the funds. Sarno said his administration has worked with community stakeholders and regional partners for years to address substance abuse and opioids, and officials developed their opioid settlement priorities based on that experience.

“A life saved is a success, and reducing our opioid-related deaths is the goal,” Sarno said. “It is my hope that by investing in these initiatives and programs, we can successfully address this complex and complicated endeavor.”

In this city of about 155,000 residents, opioid-related overdose deaths have nearly quadrupled recently, from 31 deaths in 2014 to 119 deaths in 2020, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Officials cite numerous reasons for the increase, including the increased availability of the opioid drug fentanyl. Sarno said the pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges faced by people struggling with addiction.

Springfield had already undertaken measures to address the problem, including the opening of a needle exchange program, the creation of a regional collaboration with outside organizations to address substance abuse, and equipping first responders with the overdose-reversing drug Narcan. Fire Commissioner Bernard Calvi said the settlement money will help the city expand on this work.

“I think it will be a huge game changer in the public safety realm, between the Fire Department and the Springfield Police Department,” Calvi said.

The Fire Department plans to boost its Narcan supply and buy two additional semi-automatic defibrillators, Calvi said. But mainly the money will help staff two full-time tactical EMS response vehicles, with two people per vehicle, to respond to calls in the busiest overdose areas, he said. Currently, the two units run only about 65% to 70% of the time, when staffing allows.

The Police Department plans to increase Narcan training for officers; provide training for early intervention strategies; purchase equipment and supplies for officers, including medical bags with tourniquet kits, automated external defibrillators, and Narcan pouches for officers; hire an additional crime analyst, to join the current dozen; and purchase software.

“We wanted to utilize these funds to increase the ability of our officers to rapidly and effectively respond to an opioid overdose,” said Springfield Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood.

Other settlement funds will support the Department of Health and Human Services, with priorities that include improving relationships among providers, families and people in recovery to enhance information sharing and facilitate referrals; assessing the behavioral workforce to identify training needs, capacity and competency gaps; creating a real-time data collection system to provide updated information about available spots in detox services and residential settings; developing a community-wide opioid overdose response plan; and buying a specialized vehicle to enhance its opioid-related response.

In 2018, Springfield had filed a separate lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic, and that litigation is still pending. Sarno said that a favorable outcome for the city could provide Springfield with even more resources.

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