Chief Robert J. Ferullo Jr
25 Harrison Ave.
Woburn, MA 01801
For Immediate Release
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Contact: John Guilfoil
Email: [email protected]
Police, Courts, Probation, Program Managers, Caregivers, Families, and More Come Together for 8th Annual H.E.A.T. Conference in Woburn
Police Chiefs from Woburn, Burlington, Stoneham, North Reading, and Wilmington in Attendance
Woburn District Court Communities Realized Heroin was a Growing Concern Almost a Decade Ago
WOBURN — More than 300 public officials, public health workers, families, and volunteers came together for the 8th Annual Woburn District Court Heroin Education Awareness Task Force Conference, held at Hilton Boston/Woburn on Friday, June 13, 2014.
Heroin and opioid addiction and overdose are not new topics for this group of people, who long ago recognized growing problem and the gateway between prescription painkiller abuse and heroin use, particularly among 17-25 year-olds.
“Today, society understands that heroin is one of the most severe public health emergencies law enforcement has faced in a generation, but H.E.A.T. has been calling attention to the problem for almost a decade,” said Woburn Police Chief Robert J. Ferullo Jr. “As police in this region, we recognize our public health responsibility to educate the populace and seek treatment for addicts. That is how we repair the damage to our communities that heroin and opioids have done.”
The conference was hosted by Woburn District Court, Woburn Police, and the six other police departments served by the court, as well as the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and AdCare Educational Institute.
Woburn Police are a founding member of H.E.A.T., and drug addiction treatment is a major priority for Mayor Scott Galvin’s administration.
The H.E.A.T. program was founded by Vincent J. Piro and Michael P. Higgins, of the probation department of Woburn District Court and the police departments of the seven cities and towns under its jurisdiction, including Woburn, Burlington, North Reading, Reading, Stoneham, Wilmington, and Winchester.
While the plenary group comes together for the annual conference, the many facets of H.E.A.T. are working every day on its twofold mission. First, the program seeks to educate the public — especially families of addicts — about heroin use and abuse trends among young people. Second, H.E.A.T. works tirelessly to ensure effective treatment for addicts, especially young addicts, who are the most vulnerable to potentially fatal overdoses.
The program also secures beds from the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services to provide managed treatment for addiction, putting addicts with other addicts, their own age, in a supportive setting.
“H.E.A.T. represents the entire community and services the entire state, and our partnerships were evident at this year’s conference, with parents, police, probation, parole, sheriff’s departments, and treatment providers all coming together. All of us have been affected in some way, shape, or form by opiate addiction,” said Piro, the Chief Probation Officer for Woburn District Court. “Our program has saved lives, and it continues to make a difference every day.”
Friday’s conference featured addresses from Presiding Justice Marianne Hinkle, of Woburn District Court; The Hon. Paula M. Carey, Chief Justice of The Trial Court; Court Administrator Harry Spence, Probation Commissioner Edward Dolan; Middlesex County Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian; and real-life testimonials from an addict and the parent of an addict.
It also featured two very informative presentations. First, Lynn Lizotte of MCI Framingham spoke about programs and services available for female addicts in the criminal justice system. Later, DEA Intelligence Research Specialist Michael G. Vrakatitsis gave a shocking presentation about the prevalence of heroin in New England, including instances of Fentanyl-laced heroin killing addicts, and even stronger drugs that could be deadly just by coming into contact with your skin.
“Drugs are a serious problem in virtually every community. Nobody is immune, and no community can afford to ignore both the criminal and public health effects of heroin,” said Stoneham Police Chief James McIntyre, a H.E.A.T. member, whose department recently made two high-profile drug busts.
“Heroin and opioid addiction breaks families, harms communities, and kills people, not to mention the increase in crime and violence that the drug trade brings,” said Burlington Police Chief Michael Kent. “To combat the problem, police need a multi-faceted approach, and H.E.A.T. has given us those resources for the past eight years.”
The conference was also a chance for law enforcement to connect, in an informal setting, with court officials and non-profit addiction programs like Health Innovations Inc., Healthy Streets Outreach Program, Learn 2 Cope, and behavioral health programs from Lahey Hospital and Medical Center. School officials also attended, as well as a number of officials from well-beyond Woburn, including the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, Stoughton District Court, Waltham District Court, Veterans Affairs, Attleboro District Court, the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office, Framingham District Court, Essex County Juvenile Court, an many others.
The largest conference in H.E.A.T.’s history comes on the heels of Governor Deval Patrick declaring heroin to be a public health crisis, giving the state Department of Public Health sweeping powers to act against the epidemic.
“H.E.A.T. participants recognized long ago the extent to which heroin and opioids were causing harm to people and communities, and now that the problem has reached the highest levels of government, I would not be surprised to see similar gatherings of helpers launch elsewhere in New England,” said North Reading Police Chief Michael Murphy. “We will keep working as long as we need to.”
“Sadly, the current opioid epidemic facing the Commonwealth has not appeared without warning,” Sheriff Koutoujian said. “The Heroin Education Awareness Task Force (H.E.A.T.) and the dedicated parole officers, court officials, police officers, corrections officers, medical professionals and advocates in attendance at this year’s conference have long been on the front lines attempting to tackle this growing crisis.”