Chief Robert Rufo
25 Harrison Ave.
Woburn, MA 01801
For Immediate Release
Monday, June 24, 2019
Contact: Kelsey Bode
Email: [email protected]
Woburn District Court Holds 13th Annual H.E.A.T. Conference
WOBURN — More than 250 leaders in public health, law enforcement and addiction recovery came together on Friday for the 13th Annual Woburn District Court Heroin Education Awareness Task Force (H.E.A.T.) Conference.
The Friday, June 21 conference was held at the Hilton Boston/Woburn, and featured presentations on a variety of addiction treatment and recovery methods, including medications for opioid use disorder, 12-step recovery programming, post detox continued support and services, jail diversion efforts and overdose mapping technology.
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.
“Each year, this conference brings together the people who are leading the charge to prevent addiction and help people recover,” said Woburn Police Chief Robert Rufo. “H.E.A.T. has done a phenomenal job providing a platform for people to turn to in order to learn about substance use and the treatments available. The opioid crisis is as critical as ever, and it’s crucial that communities come together to respond, educate and help those in need.”
Piro began the conference by thanking all those that have supported H.E.A.T., as well as recognizing the work being done by treatment recovery programs and initiatives, local police departments and the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office to help those struggling with substance use.
“I think everyone in this room has the same goal when we talk about making a difference, saving lives,” Piro said. “And that’s really the goal of our program.”
Higgins, Billerica’s substance abuse coordinator, stressed the importance of researching the recovery programs and detox beds that patients are referred to, emphasized the importance of recovery coaches and also discussed the frequent connection between substance use and mental health concerns.
“We feel mental health ties directly with addiction and substance abuse,” Higgins said. “And sometimes you don’t know which one it is. Is it mental health or substance use?”
Higgins said mental health has become a key part of the follow up work he does for the Billerica Police Department.
Colleen Labelle, director of the Office Based Addiction Treatment (OBAT) Training and Technical Assistance Program for the state of Massachusetts, discussed various available medications for opioid use disorder that can be used to treat patients. Labelle stressed, however, that solutions for recovery vary widely from person to person, and that reducing stigma is essential to making people feel comfortable seeking help.
“This is the single most stigmatized disease of our time,” Labelle said. “When we do stigmatize it, judge it, we isolate people and make people afraid to come to treatment….when we stigmatize, people die.”
Louie Diaz, a navigator for the Middlesex County Sherrif’s Office, shared his story of substance use and how a prison sentence served as the catalyst for his recovery. He told those at the conference that there are many people in recovery, although their stories aren’t always heard.
“There are people recovering,” Diaz said. “There are guys leaving prisons, jails and never coming back. But you don’t hear those stories. People aren’t interested in those stories…there are people recovering. The recovering community is huge.”
Brian Teague, director of Michael’s House Sober Living and Patrick’s House Sober Living, shared the impetus behind Patrick’s House Sober Living in Andover and stressed the importance of supporting those struggling after they detox and undergo treatment.
“Folks who stay in sober living longer are much more likely to succeed when they leave a program,” Teague said. “We wanted to find a way where we could bridge the gap and make sure individuals could stay in a supportive, structured community, but have the opportunity to demonstrate a little more independence when it comes to their recovery. That’s the difference between being in treatment and in recovery.”
Additional speakers at the conference included Matthew Page-Shelton, Jail Diversion Clinician serving the towns of Tewksbury, Billerica, Chelmsford and Dracut, and Roy Frost, Deputy Chief of the Billerica Police Department.
H.E.A.T. is sponsored by Woburn District Court and the seven police departments served by the court, the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and AdCare Educational Institute.