More than half of people in Worcester County who were offered services following an opioid overdose accepted treatment as part of a program launched last year, according to data recently released by the Worcester County District Attorney’s office.

In March 2020, the DA’s office announced a partnership between the Critical Incident Management System (CIMS) and the police departments in Worcester County’s 60 cities and towns. Police departments use CIMS to collect overdose data and respond to non-fatal overdose victims with services and a follow-up visit from a plain clothes officer and a recovery specialist. Of those contacted for follow-up after a non-fatal overdose, 52 percent accepted services and another nine percent were already seeking services on their own.

“These are encouraging numbers,” District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said in a press conference Tuesday. “It was a challenging year to launch this program with the roadblocks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Any time we can help even one person get access to treatment is a life that is being saved. These people are our neighbors, our friends, our relatives.”

In Worcester, one of the communities participating in the program, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. praised the work of the Worcester DA's office, and how CIMS has changed things.

“We have seen good success,” Augustus said at Tuesday's news conference. “Even though Massachusetts is seeing fatal overdoses go up, Worcester, I’m proud to say, between 2019-2020, saw a 7% decline in fatal overdoses in the city. It’s still too high. One death is too high, too many, but we are seeing some progress. We are seeing some movement in the right direction.”

Rev. Janice Ford, overseer of Opening the Word Peer Recovery Center in Webster, agreed that things are going in the right direction. She said reducing the number of fatal overdoses is the most helpful thing in getting people into recovery, and she praised emergency services in the region for increasingly carrying life-saving drugs like naloxone (Narcan).

“That has helped immensely to save people's lives, which, as I said, is the number one thing that we need to do. So that's why the emphasis is on that piece of it,” she said.

There were 960 overdoses in Worcester County where Narcan was administered last year. Of those instances, 96 percent of people survived. However, Ford said, addiction recovery goes beyond just reversing overdoses.

“When you want to deal with addiction recovery, you have to do it in a holistic fashion, body mind, spirit, emotion,” she said. “It's not just ‘Okay, let's give them, let's just put them on methadone and hope for the best,’ you know, it's way more than that. Way more than that. You're never cured of an addiction,” Ford added. “You can be in recovery, and that's why we use that term. A person is in recovery, but you're never cured.”

While the data from the past year of the CIMS program shows promising numbers in getting people to programs that can aid recovery, Ford stressed the importance of destigmatizing addiction and remembering there are people behind the percentages.

“I don't like it when people just think in terms of numbers. Like, I want people to think in terms of living breathing human beings. When you think about addiction recovery, you have to think about the people. I've done funerals, of people that I had gotten to know and really care a lot about, and, you can't put a number to that,” she said.

While addiction remains stigmatized and opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts continue to climb, the CIMS program continues to show promise in giving people struggling with substance abuse the opportunity to get treatment.