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City of Boston expands post-overdose response team

Recently-awarded funds will be used to improve coordination between agencies, expand the team's hours, and monitor the program's effectiveness.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Mayor's Office of Recovery Services and the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) today announced the City of Boston will expand the Boston Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT) thanks to a $150,000 award from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).

The City will enhance the team of public health advocates, harm reduction specialists and first responders, connecting with individuals and families through in-person, home-based outreach following an overdose. The recently-awarded funds will be used to improve coordination between agencies, expand the team's hours to reach even more Boston residents, and monitor and evaluate the program's effectiveness.

"All of us have a role in addressing the opioid epidemic. It takes local officials, first responders and members of the community to work together to implement solutions that will make a real difference, especially for those battling a substance use disorder," said Mayor Walsh. "We're grateful for this funding that will help Boston lead the way in fighting the opioid epidemic by enhancing direct outreach and getting more people into treatment and on the road to recovery."

In the first 12 months of the program, Boston PORT made almost 200 follow-up visits to homes of individuals who experienced an overdose in 14 different neighborhoods. The visits have resulted in multiple substance use disorder treatment placements, improved access to family recovery support services, and provided 100 overdose prevention and naloxone (Narcan) trainings.

"Creating overdose response teams like Boston PORT is one of our recommendations for mayors and policy makers across the country," said Director of the Mayor's Office of Recovery Services Jen Tracey. "It is fundamental to meet people where they are, whether providing support and resources, or addressing conditions of use. Boston PORT is sometimes the first point of contact to engage people in community health services, and we are glad to continue to make it happen with this new funding."

BPHC is one of the three organizations and the only health department selected to support the post-overdose follow-up program. Boston PORT builds on the Fighting Addiction in the Hub (FAITH) Initiative, a cross-sector collaboration which convened BPHC and first-responder agencies to develop a program that provides Boston residents a supportive, informational encounter to introduce recovery services, provide overdose prevention education, and treatment referrals.

"Boston PORT has already had measurable impact on our neighborhoods. Along with colleagues from Boston Police and Boston Fire Departments, our public health staff have been helping people find the services they need when they need them, and linking people to a continuum of services that exist across the City," said BPHC Executive Director Monica Valdes Lupi, JD, MPH. "Preventing and treating substance use disorders is one of BPHC's strategic priorities, and we are exploring new ways to make it easier for residents access critical services."

The Boston Fire Department's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is the primary first-responder partner for Boston PORT, delivering the in-person intervention in collaboration with BPHC's Bureau of Recovery Services. This group was selected by Boston Fire Department Commissioner Joseph E. Finn for their knowledge and experience in working with the substance use disorder continuum of care and treatment system. The Boston Police Department and Boston EMS are also joint partners of Boston PORT, providing additional outreach and support as needed.

"The Boston Fire Department's primary mission is to save lives. The Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT) continues to support this mission," said Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn. "One of PORT's most valuable tools in combating the opioid crisis has been the inclusion of the Boston Fire Department Employee Assistance Program's 'Knock and Talk' initiative where trained firefighters bring counseling and support services to the overdose situation. This initiative is literally saving lives and making a significant impact on the opioid epidemic in Boston."

In 2016, 207 Boston residents died from opioid-related overdoses, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). Over half of all fatal overdoses in 2016 and year-to-date 2017 occur in homes across all Boston neighborhoods. This program allows an opportunity for public health advocates and first responders to provide overdose prevention education to Boston residents who may not be engaged in services and offer access to a range of recovery support services, including treatment.

"BPHC, Boston Fire and Boston Police all battle this fatal disease daily," said Kim Hanton, director of Addiction Services at North Suffolk Mental Health Association. "This grant provides an opportunity to enhance the PORT by guiding unity, common language and expanding access to resources. We look forward to support this team by providing training and technical assistance, and promoting interdepartmental common understanding."

This award continues Boston's goals to ensure all residents have access to the substance use treatment and support they need. In 2015, Mayor Walsh created the Mayor's Office of Recovery Services, which works closely with BPHC, other City of Boston departments, state and federal agencies, local service providers, and community networks to build and support recovery services throughout the City.

Since 2015, Mayor Walsh has made substantial investments in response to the opioid crisis, spending at least $14.1 million on services such as residential substance use treatment programs, resources and referrals, risk reduction and overdose prevention, and outpatient treatment. New initiatives have included expanding the staff and hours of the City's access to care program (PAATHS), adding a street outreach team and engagement center for individuals in heavily impacted areas, increasing the capacity of the citywide syringe clean up team, and launching 24/7 recovery support through 311.

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