Former Drug Czar’s Words Results in Open Discussion on Opiates at Anna Maria College

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In a crowded Worcester City Hall conference room, the former National Drug Czar Michael Botticelli told a group of healthcare professionals and treatment providers to “align yourself with Law Enforcement.”


Those words were met with a mix of bewilderment, skepticism and astonishment. This was certainly not the status quo of the socially conscious and caring individuals who take the lead in caring for our disenfranchised public.  

For some, Mr. Botticelli’s words on that Aug. 22 afternoon would become a call to action. Dr. James DiReda, Director of the Bachelor of Social Work Program at Anna Maria College, saw the synergy and simple truth to the former Drug Czar’s statement, and took it to the college’s administration.  With full support from Mary Lou Retelle, Anna Maria’s President, Dr. Christine Holmes Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Dr. Judy Kenary, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Dr. John Pratico, Director of Psychology, Anna Maria College convened a Round Table to discuss the issues of Opiates in our community. 

The administration at Anna Maria know that education, prevention, treatment, and government all play a vital role if we are hoping to change our current experience regarding addiction to opiates and many other substance use disorders.  They invited a group of diverse individuals, primarily from Law Enforcement to exchange ideas on the Opiate Epidemic in a Round Table Discussion on Wednesday, Sept. 20th, 2017. Invited to the discussion were Worcester Police Chief Steve Sargent and former Chief Edward Gardella, Massachusetts District Court Judges Timothy Bibaud and Michael Allard-Madaus — both pioneers in Massachusetts Drug Courts, Worcester Public Schools Safety Director Robert Pezzella –a leader in drug education for the Worcester Public Schools, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early’s office, represented by Liz Haddad, Worcester County Office of the Sheriff, represented by Joe D’Ambra and Shawn McKenna, Paul LaCava from Quinsigamond Community College, Dr. Mattie Castiel, Commissioner of Health and Human Services for the City of Worcester, Jack Maroney, a treatment provider and co-author (with Dr. DiReda) of the East Side of Addiction, Jim Gorske, Director of the Adcare Educational Institute, Kelly Sullivan, Anna Maria Faculty, and several Anna Maria College students.  SWK Conference 2018


Those gathered around the table knew this public health emergency is important and made time in their demanding schedules to attend a two-hour discussion about opiates and their impact on our community. They came to learn, to share, and to connect with colleagues, and a core group of Anna Maria faculty and administrators renewing their relationships and forming new ones to continue working to change the effects of opiates and addiction on our community.   

The idea and need for the creation of a Center for Excellence in Addiction Studies was also discussed by those around the table in conjunction with attendees sharing what they are seeing and experiencing in their day to day world.  And so began the momentum which led to a series of initiatives designed to address the issues around drugs and addiction in our community.  Since that initial Round Table meeting, Anna Maria College has listened and responded to the needs of our community by: developing courses on addiction and recovery, designing and offering a 18-24 credit Addictions Studies Minor for those students looking to incorporate a deeper-level understanding of addiction into their Major studies, developing a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor graduate certificate program, accreditingAnna Maria College as an Addiction Education Provider through the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) and hosting a student-driven Opiate Conference here at Anna Maria College on April 11, 2018.

Anna Maria College is a natural fit to help address the issues of addiction in our community by educating our Nursing, Psychology, Social Work, Fire Science, Criminal Justice, and Human Services students who will ultimately work at the community agencies and organizations that interface with individuals, families, and communities affected by addiction.  According to Dr. DiReda, our job, in keeping with our mission, is to “educate students to become individuals who will transform their world as ethical leaders and community-oriented professionals,” and they are doing just that.  One example of this is a recent conference held at Anna Maria titled “Overcoming Drug Addiction: What are we doing?” At this conference, designed and hosted by Anna Maria Social Work seniors, multiple community stakeholders who were also members of the Round Table discussions held earlier at Anna Maria College, presented on how their agencies are addressing the issues of drug misuse and addiction. The conference ended with the showing of “If Only,” a documentary produced by Jim Wahlberg and the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, followed by a discussion facilitated by Jim Wahlberg, highlighting Kathy Leonard, a Mother who lost her son to opioid overdose.  

This conference, and all the work Anna Maria College has been doing to bring attention to the prevalence of opioids in our communities, paves the way for future initiatives designed to raise awareness and develop best-practices around prevention, education, and treatment regarding addiction, including a Center for Excellence to further study this topic.  

SWK Conference 2018

Alternative Spring Break 2018

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