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Speakers to share stories on effects of addiction

Date: 12/3/2015

EAST LONGMEADOW – The Youth Safety Committee will host a free youth safety community night on Dec. 8 at 6 p.m., featuring a panel of speakers sharing their stories of how addiction has affected their lives.

Birchland Park Middle School Counselor Diana Gomes told Reminder Publications the purpose of the event is to connect community members together to talk about how addiction affects communities as a whole.  

She noted the evening would begin with a video clip of CBS program “60 Minutes,” called “Heroin in the Heartland.”

“It talks about how we need to change the perception of addiction and defining what addiction means – that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain – and that we need to change the stigma that comes with addiction because there is a new face to addiction and that new face is anybody. It can happen to anybody. It happens in this community and nobody can say, ‘It doesn’t effect us,’” Gomes said.

Among the panel of speakers includes a parent who has lost their child to addiction, a young person in long-term recovery and a former East Longmeadow native who is recovering from drug addiction, she added.

“We’ll also have a parent who is representing the local parent support group and we’ll have a local therapist,” she noted.

Gomes said school counselors from across the district would also be available during the community night to speak with parents if they have concerns about whether their child is suffering from addiction or if they need additional information.

She noted the Youth Safety Committee was formed two years ago in response to former Gov. Deval Patrick’s public health crisis announcement in March 2014 related to opioid deaths across the state.

The committee consists of school counselors, school nurses, health teachers, Police Chief Douglas Mellis, a police officer, School Resource Officer Donald Cavanaugh, the district’s nurse leader and the program director of the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services Marie Graves, Gomes said.

Mellis said he believes the committee represents a good partnership between his department and the school district.

“We’re just providing information to help,” he added. “This is an unprecedented problem that is occurring not just within our community. We suffered a number of overdoses in the town. We’re just trying to stay on top of it and get some help for those families that are afflicted or their loved ones.”

He noted five or six opioid overdoses occurred in the town during the past year, a couple of which were fatal.

“One overdose is too many,” Mellis said.

Gomes said the committee also plans to host a free screening of “The Anonymous People,” a documentary film about how more than 23 million Americans are living in long-term recovery from addiction, at East Longmeadow High School.

That screening is tentatively planned for sometime in February.

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