City-Led Working Group Issues Recommendations for Strengthening Cambridge's Response to the Opioid Epidemic

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Today, an Administrative Opioid Working Group appointed by Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale has released a report with the working group’s recommendations and action plan for addressing the overdose epidemic at the local level. 

The City Manager’s Opioid Working Group, appointed in April 2018, has identified five recommendations with immediate and longer-term action steps designed to mitigate the challenges of the opioid crisis in Cambridge: 

1. Prevent deaths from overdose and save lives.
2. Provide public awareness education to reduce stigma and prevent addiction.
3. Increase coordination among Cambridge city departments and community agencies to improve service providers’ capacity to respond to the opioid crisis.
4. Increase access to on-demand treatment and long-term recovery support.
5. Reduce the supply of dangerous opioids.

“I want to thank the members of my Opioid Working Group for their dedication to addressing the impact that the opioid crisis is having within our community,” said City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. “I established this group to assess the feasibility of expanding harm reduction efforts in the City of Cambridge, as well as to consider more innovative strategies to assist residents, students, and visitors alike. This new report sets out a blueprint for our work moving forward.”

Mirroring the statewide trend, Cambridge is experiencing a decrease in confirmed opioid-related deaths. In 2017, there were 12 confirmed opioid-related deaths among Cambridge residents, down from 27 confirmed deaths in 2016. Similarly, the number of people who died from an opioid-related overdose in Cambridge—a figure that comprises both city residents and nonresidents—declined from 41 people in 2016 to 21 people in 2017.

“Opioid-related deaths have recently far outweighed the combined total number of fatalities from violent crime and traffic-related crashes in the City of Cambridge. While we have made great strides as a City since the peak of the opioid epidemic, the recommendations from the City Manager’s Opioid Working Group will sharpen our focus on initiatives that we believe will greatly reduce overdoses and fatalities. This work would not have been possible without the immense support and leadership of the City Manager, the Mayor, and the City Council,” said Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr., and co-chair of the City Manager’s Opioid Working Group.

In November 2017, the Office of then-Vice Mayor (now Mayor) Marc McGovern released a report that highlighted the severity of the opioid epidemic in Cambridge and provided a series of recommendations to the City Manager and City Council. City Manager Louis A. DePasquale then formed his interdisciplinary Administrative Opioid Working Group and charged it with providing policy and practice recommendations to him that would address the opioid crisis in Cambridge.

Over a six-month period in 2018, the City Manager’s Opioid Working Group learned more about the opioid crisis locally, identified services and programs currently in place, discussed relevant data collection to better inform the work, and heard from a range of content experts and people with lived experience. Together, group members identified gaps in services and programs, how best to address those gaps, and how to build upon existing programs and services.

“People who suffer from the disease of addiction are among the most vulnerable members of our community. As a city, we have a responsibility to help these individuals get the care they need, as well as to enhance coordination among partners to improve the city's response to the crisis and address ‘upstream’ factors that may be contributing to the opioid epidemic locally and statewide,” said Claude Jacob, the city’s Chief Public Health Officer and a member of the City Manager’s Opioid Working Group.

In addition to the five recommendations, the report highlights the breadth of prevention initiatives, treatment and recovery services, and data-gathering systems currently in place in Cambridge.
"It has been a privilege to serve the city and to work with experts in the field to develop recommendations for strengthening Cambridge's response to the opioid epidemic. Since the crisis began, Cambridge Health Alliance has launched numerous initiatives aimed at improving pain management strategies, integrating substance use screenings into primary care settings, and expanding access to addiction treatment. But health care is only one piece of the puzzle. Going forward, as we better coordinate the many remarkable initiatives of city and community partners, I believe that we will see a continued downward trend in opioid-related overdose deaths in Cambridge," said Assaad Sayah, MD, chief medical officer at Cambridge Health Alliance and co-chair of the City Manager’s Opioid Working Group.

The City Manager will appoint an Interdisciplinary Advisory Committee on substance use by July 1, 2019 to coordinate the City’s response to the opioid crisis. This Advisory Committee will review this plan in its entirety and determine who will take responsibility for each recommendation and its accompanying strategies. It will also develop a timetable for completion, including target dates for reaching the goals and interim activities along the way.

“I want to personally thank the co-chairs of the working group, Dr. Assaad Sayah, chief medical officer of the Cambridge Health Alliance, and Cambridge Police Department Commissioner Branville Bard, Jr., for their dedication and leadership to addressing this epidemic and helping people get access to the resources they need,” said DePasquale.

To download a copy of the Cambridge City Manager’s Opioid Action Plan: Final Report and Recommendations,


Membership of the Cambridge City Manager’s Administrative Opioid Working Group,
Co-Chairs: Assaad Sayah, MD, FACEP, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Cambridge Health Alliance and Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr., DPA, Cambridge Police Department.

Members: Mark Albanese, MD, Cambridge Health Alliance; Louis Cherubino, Cambridge Police Department; John Chute, Community Representative; Steven DeMarco, Cambridge Police Department; Mark Eisenberg, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital; Christopher Fischer, MD, Cambridge Health Alliance; Ellie Grossman, MD, MPH, Cambridge Health Alliance; Meghan Hynes, Access: Drug User Health Program; Claude Jacob, Cambridge Public Health Department, Cambridge Health Alliance; Nancy Mahan, Bay Cove Human Services; Gerard Mahoney, Cambridge Fire Department; Bill Mergendahl, Professional Ambulance Services; Mark McGovern, Cambridge-Somerville Healthcare for the Homeless, Cambridge Health Alliance; Ellen Semonoff, Cambridge Department of Human Service Programs; and Jared Stanley, Cambridge Police Department.

Page was posted on 3/6/2019 8:59 AM
Page was last modified on 6/17/2019 12:08 PM
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