A collection of law enforcement, faith leaders, treatment providers and other town groups is working to battle substance abuse in Braintree.

The Braintree Community Partnership on Substance Use, a town hall coalition of community groups, attacks drug and alcohol use in Braintree, especially by young people, from many different angles, ranging from education to policy changes.

“Our aim is to keep young people healthy so they can go on to make lives for themselves as adults,” said Lyn Frano, substance use prevention coordinator for the town of Braintree.

The group consists of a steering committee and a set of stakeholders who represent facets of the town’s community, including the town council, police department, the school system, the mayor’s office, faith leaders and several treatment providers.

The group focuses on youth prevention because young people are especially susceptible to harm from substance use as their brains continue to develop, said Frano.

The group uses on programming and tactics that will actually change the behaviors of people who are currently abusing, or who are at risk to abuse drugs and alcohol, she said. This includes policy measures to limit access to substances like opioids and tobacco products, and educational community and school events where people can learn risk factors for substance use.

The group even organizes story times and activities for children that teach the importance of community collaboration and how to take medicine safely with adult supervision.

Braintree has not been spared by the opioid epidemic that has swept across New England and the country. The state Department of Public Health reported the town had 14 fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2017, 9 in both 2016 and 2015 and 8 in 2014.

As Frano explained, many people with opioid addictions begin by misusing prescription painkillers, then sometimes move on to stronger, cheaper drugs, like heroin.

To limit misuse of prescription painkillers, the Braintree Police department now has a drop-off box where people can dispose of unwanted prescription pills. And, starting in April of this year, a new partnership now sends a Braintree police officer and an addiction treatment worker from Manet Community Health Center out in pairs to follow up with people who have been treated for opioid overdoses.

The visiting duos can provide overdose patients, and people they live with, with naxolone, a medicine commonly called by its brand name Narcan, that can be used to reverse opioid overdoses, and teach them how to use it. They also distribute information on how to connect with treatment options for addiction.

The opioid epidemic, although still a significant problem, has begun to turn a corner, Frano said. People continue to become addicted and overdoses have continued, but at a slower rate than when pain pills like OxyCotin first flooded onto the market and into people’s medicine cabinets, she said.

But while the opioid crisis gradually slows, e-cigarettes, often called Juuls after a brand that manufactures them, are a growing problem, especially among young people, accoriding to Frano. The state’s Department of Public Health reported last year that 44.8 percent of high school students in Massachusetts have used e-cigarettes in the past, and 23.7 percent currently used them.

Many e-cigarette users think the devices are not addictive and are far less dangerous than traditional cigarettes, said Frano. But, she said, smoking nicotine in any form can increase a person’s risk of cancer and other health problems, like COPD and high blood pressure.

“The bottom line is, it is not good for your health,” she said.

The group has worked to put policies in place in the town to limit access to tobacco products, which Frano said is a crucial element of stopping young people from starting to smoke.

In December 2018, Braintree’s Board of Health passed a regulation banning most retailers from selling flavored tobacco products. Frano said the community partnership made a big push for the change, since a big part of the appeal of e-cigarettes for young people is the fact that they come in a variety of flavors.

The group also successfully pushed for the licensing board to lower the number of tobacco licenses available in the town to 40 and to not permit new tobacco licensees within 500 feet of a school or 500 feet of another tobacco seller.

“It’s all about access and availability,” Frano said.

In September 2018, the town introduced the INTERFACE Referral Service hotline. The service is run through William James College in Boston, and connects callers to mental health care providers based on their location, insurance and required specialties. Their website also offers free information about different aspects of mental health.

Frano said there is often a clear connection between mental health problems and substance abuse. And, she said, both types of problems frequently come with heavy social stigma that can prevent people from getting the treatment they need. The community partnership aims to reduce that stigma by talking about both mental health and substance use in a forthcoming way, she said.

“It’s not a moral failing,” she said. “Addiction is a disease, a brain disease.”