Around Town

Substance use is at the ‘core’ of new initiative

WESTFIELD-A community forum is slated Jan. 16, hosted by CORE of Greater Westfield, to seek input on substance use in the city.

“For the past several years, many members of the greater Westfield community have been working to combat various forms of substance use in our community,” said Kathi Cotugno, CORE coordinator. “In many cases, individuals and groups are not aware of other available resources. CORE is weaving together a network of partners from all walks of life to strengthen our effectiveness.”

The forum will be conducted from 7 – 9 a.m. at the Westfield Senior Center, 45 Noble St. In the event of inclement weather, a snow date of Jan. 23 has been set. A light breakfast will be provided.

CORE (Coalition for Outreach, Recovery and Education) was originally established four years ago as the Westfield Drug Task Force. Cotugno, an employee of the city’s health department, coordinates CORE activities.

Cotugno said the forum is open to business and nonprofit leaders, family members, educators, health care professionals, human service providers, and faith leaders.

“We are interested in input from people who have been touched by middle or high school binge drinking or vaping, alcohol or drug use in one’s own life, or the life of a friend or family member, or losing someone to overdose or a substance use related death,” said Cotugno, adding the forum will also address the legalization of marijuana and its impact on the community.

“These instances can make us feel powerless, but together, there is much we can do to heal and recover,” she said.

Remarks during the forum will include Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, former Westfield mayor Brian Sullivan, state Sen. and mayor-elect Donald Humason, Jr., and Cotugno.

“We will also conduct roundtable discussions that will be used by CORE members on planning future goals,” said Cotugno.

Statistics can be sobering, and Cotugno shared that the most recent Massachusetts Department of Public Health data shows an increase in nonfatal overdoses and deaths each year since 2016.

“From Jan. 1 to October of this year, we have seen 51 nonfatal overdoses in the city and have had seven overdose deaths,” said Cotugno. “In 2018, there were 50 nonfatal overdoses and six deaths, and in 2017, there were 24 nonfatal overdoses and four deaths. In 2016, the year the task force was formed, there were 44 nonfatal overdoses and seven deaths.”

Cotugno also shared several results regarding substance abuse during a spring Bach Harrison Survey conducted with city students in grades 8, 10 and 12. 

“Concerning vaping, 71.3% of students know that e-cigarettes are addictive yet 41% are using them anyway,” noted Cotugno from the survey results, adding that vaping by students stands at 8.9% in 8th grade, 28% in 10th grade, and 30% in 12th grade.

Alcohol use is down 3% in each grade since the last survey, however, results are still well above the national average, said Cotugno, noting that binge drinking saw a decline since the last survey but still stands at 11% for each grade and is still above the national average for 10th and 12th grades. Additionally, the survey notes that 12.8% of students indicate they have come to school drunk, and 40.5% of students in the three grades surveyed said they have used alcohol.

Marijuana use by students was also cited in all three grades surveyed. Survey results noted that in the 12th grade, 45.7% of students acknowledge having used marijuana, while 32.7% in 10th grade have used the substance, and 7.9% of eighth graders indicated they had used marijuana. The survey notes that there was a 21% increase from the 8th grade in 2017 to 10th grade this year, and a 14% increase in marijuana use from the 10th grade in 2017 to the 12th grade this year.

“We need to give our kids the right materials to make the right choices,” said Cotugno.

Cotugno added that input from the forum’s participants will help the CORE team to work on educational and supportive measures that will address the pressing issues facing the community.

“We will bring back all of the information to our meetings to make sure we are going in the right direction,” said Cotugno.

Area residents serving on the CORE team alongside Cotugno include Sullivan, Humason, state Rep. John Velis, community members Tanja Alessi, Maria Sotolongo, Jason Russell and Megan Phelon, as well as Maureen Viturale from the group Grandparents Raising Grandkids. Also, Lawrence Valliere, police chief; Patrick Egloff, fire chief; Joe Rouse, director of public health; Stefan Czaporowski, school superintendent; Kate Phelon, Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce; Andrea Allard, YMCA of Greater Westfield; Liz Walz, Genesis Spiritual Life & Conference Center; Kelley Crowley, Baystate Noble Hospital; Sue West, Martha Klaczak, and Michelle Michaelian, all of BHN; Cindy Hadge, Western Mass Recovery Learning Community; Kevin Bard, community police; Deb Mulvenna, health department; Carrie Hildreth-Fiordalice, Westfield High School adjustment counselor; Kristine Hupfer, Westfield Technical Academy adjustment counselor, and recovery coaches Tommy Stanziola and Mark Jachym.

Persons interested in attending the forum are asked to contact Cotugno at (413) 642-9322 or send an email to [email protected] by Jan. 5.

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