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$2.6 Million Grant Will Fund Trauma Treatment for People with Addiction in Franklin County Jail

UMass Amherst opioid epidemic researcher will evaluate the collaborative project

AMHERST, Mass. – A University of Massachusetts Amherst epidemiology researcher is one of the recipients of a five-year, $2.6 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that will fund trauma treatment for people struggling with addiction in the Franklin County jail.

Elizabeth Evans
UMass Amherst associate professor Elizabeth Evans

Trauma is a typical and important underlying cause of addiction, notes Elizabeth Evans, associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, whose recent research focuses on the opioid epidemic, particularly among populations involved with the criminal justice system. The grant will also support assistance for people with substance use disorder after they are released from jail.

Evans will work with several agencies that are part of the HEALing (Helping End Addiction Long-term) Franklin County project to improve the county’s response to the opioid epidemic. The program is designed to accelerate science-based solutions to the national opioid public health crisis.

“Over half of the people in our jail have an addiction to opioids,” says Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan, “This is a community problem and it needs a community solution. These funds will bring together a number of partners to give critically needed help to those suffering from profound addiction. We are following the science closely and need to offer treatments that are shown to work.”

Evans will be the principal investigator of the project’s evaluation component. “Understanding how the criminal justice system collaborates with community healthcare organizations to treat people with opioid use disorder can reveal new ways to save lives and improve population health,” she says. “Lessons learned will inform how to improve health and safety in the region and in other rural settings nationwide.”

The Community Health Center of Franklin County and the Center for Human Development will provide staff to help individuals exiting jail navigate the health care system and support their transition back into the community.

“The Community Health Center is committed to provide high-quality health care to any member of our community, regardless of income, insurance status or circumstances,” says Dr. Allison Van der Velden, CEO of the Community Health Center of Franklin County. “ ‘High quality’ means integrated, accessible and individualized care with a range of office-based addiction treatments as part of primary care. CHCFC is confronting the opioid epidemic with evidence-based practices and by supporting and empowering patients through their personal health journeys.”

Shannon Hicks, director of the Greenfield Behavioral Health Clinic for the Center for Human Development, adds, “Here at CHD, we serve a high population of clients with complex needs. The clients we support who are transitioning out of a jail setting face a number of challenges, and whatever we can do to assist in their success regarding struggles with addiction, trauma, housing and employment will help us build a safe and healthy community.”

The Salasin Project will be contracted to provide peer-specialist support for women transitioning out of jail. “At the Salasin Project we support individuals and families that have experienced domestic violence,” says Becky Lockwood, Salasin Project director. We recognize that the majority of women who are involved in the justice system have histories of sexual and domestic violence which is connected to their substance misuse. As a result, women being released from jail are at risk for exploitation. As a community, we have the responsibility to create conditions in which these women feel supported and valued and can build their resilience.”

Evans and Donelan emphasize the importance of using the latest and most effective public health strategies to address the nation’s biggest social problems. “Public health strategies are how we will beat COVID-19; it is how we will overcome the opioid epidemic and it is how we will address chronic incarceration,” Donelan says. “We are building the best program we can from the best science we know with the goal of making our community safe and healthy.”