For Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, the opioid crisis can’t be stopped until the mental health crisis ends.

“I want to make sure that these children that are 15 years old won’t have to worry about going to rehab,” Romeo Theken say. “We need to do more.”

The Gloucester Health Department has received $1.25 million to do just that. 

“There is a significant lack of mental health services for juveniles in our health system which can lead to a number of issues for youth including substance misuse,” Romeo Theken said.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on Tuesday awarded the Gloucester Health Department a Strategic Prevention Framework— Partnerships for Success grant totaling to $1.25 million to assist the city Health Department in preventing substance misuse and improving access to mental health care at the community level.

The grant will amount to $248,612 per year, for up to five years. 

“The grant allows Gloucester to pursue its existing goals around youth mental health in a more robust and comprehensive way,” said Gloucester’s Public Health Director Karin Carroll. “We look forward to working with our partners in the city and the community at large to improve the health of all youth.” 

The money will support the Health Department’s project ‘Mitigating risk factors for underage substance misuse in Gloucester by bolstering youth resiliency and applying a trauma-informed approach.’

A trauma-informed approach is defined as “inclusive of trauma-specific interventions, whether assessment, treatment of recovery supports, yet it also incorporates key trauma principles into the organizational culture” by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The federal prevention grant will also provide the Health Department with money to mitigate and prevent substance misuse through collaborative programs and a mass media campaign with the hopes of increasing awareness and address the current lack of access to mental health services.

Last year, the state recorded 109 opioid-related incidents where emergency medical services were called in Gloucester while Rockport, Manchester, and Essex all had less than five, according to a state Department of Public Health report. In 2017, Gloucester had recorded 106, while the Cape Ann towns each had less than five. 

The same report said there were 17 opioid-related deaths in the city in 2018, 16 in 2017, and nine in 2016.

The city Health Department’s regional prevention director, Amy Epstein, will directing the use of grant money as the city looks to provide resources to identify service gaps, eliminate barriers and enhance referrals to care for those impacted by substance misuse, specifically underage drinking, vaping and marijuana. 

Programs include the Gloucester Police Department’s Kops ‘N’ Kids, Sexuality And Gender Acceptance (SAGA), Children’s Friends and Family, and similar youth-centered programs. 

“We are excited about the grant as it is a great resource and opportunity to do more work in that area,” said Action Inc.’s Executive Director Peggy Hegarty-Steck. “Because the focus is working together, it will help us all be able to do our work better and coordinated with this focus on trauma and mental health.”

The grant will also support Gloucester Police Department’s community policing efforts, Children’s Friends and Family parent workshops, Gloucester Public Schools’ embedded clinicians, Gloucester Youth Leadership Council, and a LGBTQ youth group.

“If we make them stronger today, they will say no to drugs tomorrow,”  Romeo Theken said.

Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-338-2527 or

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