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Smithfield Rotary Club Sponsors Substance Abuse Awareness Campaign

By Paul Lonardo

Recently, our own John J.Tassoni, Jr. was contacted by the Smithfield Rotary Club, which had some funding available that they wanted to use in a substance abuse awareness campaign and was seeking advice about what they should do. John, who is a passionate advocate for substance abuse awareness and recovery, as many of you know from the work he does with Recovery Radio, jumped at the chance to do everything he could to help. The concept that was created was simple but effective; an image of an open hand with the words “Stop Addiction” written in multiple scripts inside. Below the image; “For Help Call 942-STOP (7867). This ad draws the eye and instant attention from anyone who sees it; which is the very idea.

For the past year, the Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of Rhode Island (SUMHLC), a non-profit organization that John works with, has been managing the 942-STOP Hope and Recovery helpline. Dr. Susan Storti, the President /CEO of SUMHLC, was instrumental in getting this project off the ground and seeing it through. While the state funds the Helpline, SUMHLC staffs it.

“The people answering the phones and on the staff are familiar with all the agencies in Rhode Island,” John says. “They know where to send people based on where they are geographically in the state, as well as by what type of substance issue an individual has, whether it’s alcohol, marijuana, OxyContin, fentanyl or any other narcotic. Whatever the case, help is available.”

The Helpline is confidential and in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, serving both English and Spanish speaking callers. A live person makes an assessment of the caller’s immediate needs, determining if inpatient or outpatient treatment is required. If inpatient care is deemed the best course of action, a facility in Rhode Island is immediately contacted. If out-patient would serve the caller better, then all the information regarding available facilities is provided over the phone so that treatment can begin as soon as possible.

“It’s a great tool,” John says, “because a lot of people don’t know when they get to that point that they may need help. They don’t know where to go.”

Now, because of this campaign anyone can get all the information they need to begin a treatment program with just a simple phone call. And it’s strictly confidential. The service is provided to help people overcome their addictions and to staunch the epidemic of substance abuse that is tearing the fabric of our country apart one family at a time. Something clearly has to be done, and this pilot project will hopefully make a difference. John and Dr. Susan Storti are both counting on it.

Four 4×8 sheets of plywood were constructed, each featuring the advertisement with the STOP Hand and Hope and Recovery Helpline phone number; 942-STOP. These advertisement billboards have been placed in various locations around Smithfield where they will be most noticed. Two can be seen on either side of Route 116 and Route 7, one at the fire station in Greenville, and one at the fire station next to the town hall on Farnum Pike. The signs will remain up for 90 days, at which time it will be evaluated whether or not this method had any impact on helping to steer people toward recovery.

“Every time someone calls,” John explains, “they are asked where they saw the Helpline number, so it can be tracked back to one of the signs. And if it works, then we would like to pitch it to all Rotary Clubs to do this in every community.”

John and Dr. Storti believe that this is something the public needs to see, and many people need to know there is a place they can turn to for help.

It’s clear there is an opioid epidemic ravaging the United States, and it is taking a grim and growing toll on Americans. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 64,070 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, with approximately three-fourths of all drug overdose deaths attributed to opioids, a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers as well as heroin and potent synthetic versions like fentanyl. Data indicates that overdoses of synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl – which is 50 to 100 times stronger than the painkiller morphine – are driving the sharp increases in opioid overdose deaths. The CDC identified 15,466 deaths from heroin overdoses in 2016, while 20,145 deaths were caused by fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.

According to a shocking recent report from Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent research organization, more Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than the number of American lives lost in the entirety of the Vietnam War, which totaled 58,200. Suicides are also on the rise, and considering these sobering statistics, this is a problem that is not going to be solved overnight. However, there are steps that can be taken to saves lives such as this pilot program being sponsored by the Smithfield Rotary Club.

The sponsors of this program deserve a special thanks. These include the Town of Smithfield, Smithfield Fire Department, Smithfield Rotary Club, Cool Air Creations, SUMHLC – The Leadership Council and Sentinel Media Group.

If you need help with a substance abuse issue, or if you know someone who needs help, call 942-STOP (7867).