As part of an opioid use and prevention study, a mobile outreach van offering syringe exchange services and naloxone distribution is in Sandwich three days a week to assist residents in recovery and education.

The program also serves to educate people about the risk of communicable diseases that comes with the shared use of syringes.

The services, provided by the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, or ASGCC, were approved for town distribution and assistance by the Sandwich Board of Health on October 18, Director of Public Health David Mason said. The town approval helped ASGCC receive additional state funding for added resources without taking from town funding.

The mobile outreach van is stationed at the Sandwich Food Pantry every Wednesday from 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM but offers services three days a week in surrounding areas from 1:30 to 4:30 PM, said Tanya Kohli, ASGCC’s director of prevention and screening. To check for additional services and van locations in town, visit www.facebook.com/chartteam.

The mobile outreach van also serves Bourne and Falmouth and has offices in Provincetown, Hyannis and Martha’s Vineyard.

“This benefits the community to service that population due to the ongoing opioid issue and the numbers associated with the Cape in general,” Mr. Mason said. “In town, it does assist in reducing communicable disease rates associated with blood-borne diseases or bodily fluids.”

People on the Cape and in Sandwich are aware of the opioid crisis, but Mr. Mason said he wants people to have a better understanding of the need for services. The intent of a syringe exchange program in town is to control the transfer of communicable diseases and to educate the community.

“Although some people find syringe service programs controversial, it has a proven track record of saving lives and preventing the spread of blood-borne illnesses,” said Dan Gates, ASGCC’s president and chief executive officer.

The opioid overdose death rate in Sandwich has fluctuated between two and six deaths per year between 2015 and 2020, and the town ranks low compared to standardized populations in Barnstable County and across Massachusetts, according to data presented by ASGCC.

However, Sandwich saw a 33 percent increase in opioid-related emergency medical incidents, unrelated to deaths, between January and June of 2021 compared to 2020, which saw 23, and 2019, which saw 24, according to the data. This shows there may be an increasing trend in Sandwich.

“The contributed levels of overdose fatalities suggests that the availability of Narcan (naloxone) and other harm reduction programs to engage this community remain a priority,” Mr. Gates said.

Following the increase in opioid-related incidents and communicable diseases, both Sandwich and Bourne were selected for the study, which aims to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths by 40 percent within a three-year period and increase the distribution of naloxone, a drug distributed nasally to stop the progression of an opioid overdose.

Compared to other towns on the Cape that were not selected for the HEALing Communities Study, resources and lifesaving treatments are more readily available in both Sandwich and Bourne, Ms. Kohli said. Funding is supported by the HEALing Communities Study, which investigates how to prevent and treat opioid use disorder at a local level.

In addition to syringe exchange services and naloxone distribution, the mobile van offers distribution and collection of sterile syringes, disposal of sharps, education on proper vein and wound care, overdose prevention and naloxone distribution education, the distribution of fentanyl test strips, financial and housing resources, transportation, outpatient and primary referrals, sexually transmitted infection testing and mental health services, Mr. Gates said.

“Our services are based on harm reduction principles, which means we provide unconditional support to people who use drugs, no matter what phase of drug use they may be in,” Mr. Gates said. “Our services are successful because we meet people where they are at, free of stigma and agenda.”

Additionally, naloxone distribution is available to those who use opioids, as well as friends, family and community members seeking support to prevent fatal overdoses.

“Our goal is to get Narcan (naloxone) into the hands of folks who are at the highest risk of experiencing an overdose or those most likely to witness one,” Mr. Gates said. “Our services have been designed with the goal of overdose prevention and decreasing non-fatal and fatal overdoses by reducing barriers to accessing services and increasing education.”

When the study is complete this summer, ASGCC wants to expand the resources and services available to the Sandwich community, Ms. Kohli said.

On Cape Cod, opioid-related deaths now represent the fastest-growing cause of death since the initial AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Gates said. Between 2019 and 2020, Barnstable County saw a 4 percent increase in overdose deaths, largely due to the availability and low cost of drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

“Our mission is to save lives through prevention, education and life-sustaining services that address public health crises to build healthy communities across the Cape and islands,” Mr. Gates said.

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