To the editor:
Candice Terrault’s letter to the editor of January 19th, 2023 refers to the 2015 community Pride Survey, which was conducted through the Nantucket Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention (.A.S.A.P.).As noted, it identified the elevated level of risk Nantucket youth faced for substance-abuse/dependence and mental health challenges and pointed to a legacy of generational addiction and family dysfunction. The survey was a valuable tool for our community opening pathways of discussion that led to greater understanding of the issues and the development and enhancement of programs focused on both prevention and education of substance abuse throughout the Island community. The A.S.A.P .Board that initiated this was small in numbers but strong in force.
Nantucket is a resort community whose only sustainable income is derived from tourism; is important and we should not disregard the integral part it plays in the lives of everyone who lives, visits and pays taxes here. More importantly and impactful is the fact that we are an isolated, Island community. When you combine both identities, there are inherent factors that can help identify and define risks.
However, much has changed in our Island community since 2015 and overlaid on its continuity is the significant fact that the social and economic disparity of our year round community has become one of the highest in the state .If we look at our school population as an benchmark, the student population has increased 11.85% since 2015, in 2015 16.3% of the school population identified as low income, in 2023 38.5% of the school population was identified as low income. That is an increase of 140.62%.These numbers alone contribute significantly to risk factors and the challenges that the community faces in adapting and providing diverse and needed services.
There has been an increased use of heroin, marijuana, vaping and fentanyl laced drugs among both adult and youth since 2015; but all were present in 2015 with the same risks to our community. As Ms.Tetrault notes, the island has experienced fentanyl related deaths and overdoses, including among high school youth. The ongoing issues with bathrooms at Nantucket High School are a symptom of and another indicator of a growing problem.
To be clear, The town of Nantucket has recognized the urgency of the situation and it’s recognition should be noted. Nantucket is one of the only communities in the Commonwealth that provides public funds to support human services provided by the private sector. Since 2015 the Town through human services grants, has awarded a total of $4,572,200 to private nonprofits providing essential services to the island community. Many of these programs intertwine with each other allowing access to crossover services here in our community that would not otherwise be accessible. In 2015, the Town awarded $317,880 annually to human services contracts with private nonprofits. For fiscal year 2023, the town will be awarded a total of $825,000 in town grants to private, non -profit human service providers, an increase of 159%; $175,000 of that funding will go directly to programs that support the prevention and the education and wellness of people affected by substance abuse.
The Island community does support multi-pronged programs for education in alcohol use, prevention and community wellness .The Contract Review Committee (CRC), that oversees the Human Service contracts, has worked diligently and with great passion to advocate for continued financial support of the private human services providers in our community. CRC grant monies have supported Nantucket Cottage Hospital’s (NCH) funding of off Island ambulance service for mental health/substance abuse patient’s years before it was identified by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Health and Human Services Department as a necessary budget line item. In addition monies have supported the sliding scale fees for therapeutic and psychiatry services at Fairwinds, while also funding the peer recovery program; ASAP/NAMI educational and therapeutic initiatives; Gosnold’s provision of Nantucket based counseling and SOAP programs; A Safe Place’s counseling and educational outreach programs ; Health Imperatives services including educational outreach; And the Artist association’s Healing through the Arts .The CRC has strived to support all initiatives within the human service sector, while continuing to identify and advocate for the needed funds for these programs .
The Behavioral Health Task Force, which includes key players in the community involved in behavioral health on-island, have collaborated extensively over the last two years identifying behavioral health needs, collectively deciding on appropriate, actionable solutions, identifying an organization or multiple ones who can develop and deliver sustainable programs that they being integrating within all sectors of the island community.
It is imperative that all stakeholders in the Island community become more involved in the solution.
The town of Nantucket Select Board, Town Manager, Finance Director, Finance Committee, Human Services department and taxpayers are not waiting or gambling with the island youth but investing in Human services providers who specialize in these sectors.
Chair, Contract Review Committee
Members John Belash, Joanne Roche, Linda Williams, Bertyl Johnson, Verioncia Bolick