The mood in Boston was high. The euphoria of imminent victory in the World War I, then seen as the war to end all wars, was flourishing in Beantown. Just weeks before the armistice was signed in Germany on the the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, celebration, patriotism, and elation were met with a new found affluence heretofore not seen in the still somewhat nascent United States. Leisure time, baseball, dancing, saloons, and public merriment began to creep into our consciousness – and our societal psyche.
Then it hit. Legend is that “the Grippe,” or the great influenza outbreak of 1918, began with some sailors returning from war in late August on Commonwealth Pier. This particularly virulent and lethal strain of the disease then spread throughout the Boston area swiftly and violently. Within two weeks, more than two thousand military men were infected, many of whom perished, never fully enjoying the spoils of a post-war America. By October, more than 1,000 deaths were reported by the MA Public Health Service.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, a physician at Camp Devens noted in late September, "This epidemic started about four weeks ago, and has developed so rapidly that the camp is demoralized and all ordinary work is held up till it has passed....These men start with what appears to be an ordinary attack of La Grippe or Influenza, and when brought to the Hosp. they very rapidly develop the most viscous type of Pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the Mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the Cyanosis extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white. It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes, and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate. It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day, and still keeping it up. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a new mixed infection here, but what I don't know....”
In time, the Grippe passed, and Boston returned to post-war normalcy, but the culture and soul of Boston was ever-changed by that public health pandemic.
Today, our community faces a similarly sinister and virulent plague. Although the abuse of drugs and alcohol has been an unfortunate but ubiquitous part of global society for thousands of years, the overabundance and relative inexpensiveness of opiates, both in its pure form as heroin, and in synthetic form as prescription drugs, is today’s Grippe. Family members, neighbors, and friends are dying, right here in Falmouth, from the unyielding cruelty and malevolence of this modern-day pandemic. While obituaries offer a pedestrian explanation that someone “died suddenly,” or “died unexpectedly,” the reality is that Falmouthites, many of them young, are dying tragically every week.
The American Medical Association classified addiction as a disease in 1956. Treatment models, research, and slow and steady progress to improve the lives of those with the disease, have evolved since then and continue to this day. Studies on addiction treatment and the amazing work of substance abuse professionals continue to work in all corners of the Commonwealth. Here in Falmouth, the Falmouth Prevention Partnership, through the tireless work of many volunteers and some dedicated professional staff, has worked to educate and engage Falmouth’s youth on the scourge and menace of the disease of addiction. The Partnership, and its community-based Steering Committee, has held numerous focus groups, provided educational material, and sponsored events that have raised awareness and increased community involvement, guiding our youth toward healthy decisions. They are working against our local Grippe and its tragic impact on our town – and our kids. This summer, the Partnership joined with the Falmouth Commodores, the Falmouth Police and Fire Departments, and Sheriff Jim Cummings to sponsor “Above the Influence,” a wonderful interactive event where Commodores players demonstrated the benefits of healthy choices. The Partnership is truly a community partner.
The Partnership has operated through a federal grant, with the Town of Falmouth as its fiscal agent, since 2008. The grant, which operates on a five year cycle, has not been renewed. The work of the Partnership, and their dedication to Falmouth’s youth, though, continues. Recently, Steering Committee Chair Dr. Michael Bihari, pledged to continue the Partnership’s important work. The Town of Falmouth, as the fiscal agent who managed the grant funding, is not just a vessel for the dollars pledged by Uncle Sam. By accepting the grant funds, they accepted the solemn responsibility of addressing this issue. Like the MA Public Health Service was to the Grippe of 1918, the Town of Falmouth is the responsible agency for addressing the public health issues of the Grippe of 2013.
The Town must continue to fund the Partnership. Period. No other public health issue in our community is more urgent. No other disease is killing more of our youth. While the recent news that the town may have $3 million certified free cash does not mean that the town should waiver from its fiscally conservative policies, it certainly means that budgetary funds can be dedicated to picking up where Uncle Sam left off and providing a line item in the Human Services budget to continue the imperative and essential work – the public health work – of preventing the Grippe from gripping more of our youth.