ASGCC’s Role in Fighting the Opioid and Substance Use Crisis
For close to two decades, the opioid epidemic has consumed Cape Cod and the Islands. Hundreds have died, impacting families and communities in the area. In Massachusetts, opioid overdoses are now the fastest growing cause of death since the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s. In addition to opioids, we also face a broader substance use crisis, due to the availability of cheap heroin (often laced with fentanyl) and other drugs such as crystal meth and speed. In response, ASGCC has developed a vital, community-based program to support people who use substances.
Through services and advocacy, we remain at the forefront, fighting to save lives since we started our first syringe program in 1994. In 2015, the Town of Barnstable issued a cease-and-desist order demanding that ASGCC shut down our syringe program. We maintained that our Hyannis-based program operated legally and so sued the town. The ensuing legal battle went all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, resulting in a unanimous ruling in our favor. The court’s decision ensured that life-saving syringe access programs would remain in place, not only on the Cape, but across the Commonwealth – resulting in the opening of more than 35 syringe programs State-wide.
Harm reduction is an approach that focuses on reducing the potential negative consequences of drug use and supporting individuals in embracing changes in their lives that may promote their health and overall wellbeing. Supports can include a range of services such as syringe services (access to sterile syringes, as well as a safe place to dispose of used syringes), overdose education, and distribution of Narcan (naloxone), a drug used to treat narcotic overdose in an emergency. We also offer support groups for those seeking peer support, which can include connection to Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) via our Short-term Health Navigation program.
ASGCC harm reduction staff sees and works with over 1,000 people who inject drugs, many of whom are dealing with stigma and discrimination and some who are fighting for their lives. Many people who inject drugs experience stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination even at agencies designed to help them – and as a result, many feel disconnected from services that are there to serve them. We treat everyone with respect and dignity.
Building on our commitment to harm reduction as a guiding organizational philosophy, ASGCC established two cutting-edge public health programs for people who inject drugs: Syringe Services and Overdose Education & Narcan Distribution (OEND). These life-saving services give people who inject drugs a chance to empower themselves while they make informed decisions, reduce risk for themselves and others, and stay alive to get the support and help they seek. These programs were once considered controversial (and for some, they still are), but nowadays these services are largely respected and valued by law enforcement, first responders, and community stakeholders throughout the Cape and Islands. More than 1,800 lives have been saved by Narcan distributed by ASGCC.
Learn more about ASGCC’s Syringe Services and Overdose Education & Narcan Distribution here.
ASGCC’s services are always free.