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Why we did the opioid series -- and why we want your thoughts

Brynn O'Connor

Brynn O'Connor, assistant to YourArlington's editor, explains how our four-part series about Arlington's response to the opioid crisis came to be – and states that we seek your feedback. She graduated in May 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism from Emerson College. She joined YourArlington the next month and handles a wide variety of responsibilities in writing, editing, photography and layout. 

Roughly a year ago, YourArlington began working on a routine story about a newly hired Town of Arlington employee: Anna Martin, who served as prevention services manager for the Department of Health and Human Services from May 2023 through June 28, 2024.  

In June 2023, YA founder Bob Sprague learned that the Massachusetts Department of Health had just released a report estimating the total amount of opioid-related overdoses in the state. The data displayed an evident increase in fatalities, especially over the past four years. 

A larger story

Given the town’s recent hiring of a prevention services manager – and the fact that the state has been significantly affected by the country’s opioid epidemic – members of YourArlington’s editorial staff (Bob; Judith Pfeffer, the editor; and I) believed that there was a larger story here about substance abuse in Arlington.

Before anything could be written, we needed to see the town-specific statistics. State data released around the same time as the opioid report noted 10 fatalities in Arlington in 2022, while there had been just two fatalities the year before. 

We considered this to be a notable jump but needed to confirm the numbers with the Arlington Police Department. YA sat down for a Zoom interview with Capt. Richard Flynn of the APD along with data analyst Danielle Smith and mental health clinician Christina Valeri, who discussed the Arlington Outreach Initiative and provided data  that detailed the town’s demographics and fatality rates for reported opioid overdoses, 2015 through 2023. 

A new perspective

Although state and town numbers differed slightly (as explained in part 1 of this series), both sets of data demonstrated increased overdoses in Arlington over the past few years – and it was clear to us that authoritative town members were adopting new perspectives to fight this. 

We had the start of our story, which you can read in part 1. But we came to learn that this story about opioid abuse in town had more angles than just law enforcement. 

I attended a vigil at Arlington's Calvary Church for National Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, 2023. That is when I was introduced to recovery coach Tommy Caccavaro and local resident Elizabeth Wall, who both briefly shared their own experiences about how opioid/substance abuse have brought pain and strife into their lives. We thought it important to speak with them and came to believe that their stories needed more attention than simply a few quotes in the single article we had planned.

In the fall of 2023, YourArlington’s editor reviewed the information we had collected, which included various state and town statistics, research into the National Opioid Settlements and several interviews with the story’s key players. This is when Judith proposed a four-part series to address how the town is responding, how residents have survived, how community members are recovering and what the town is doing toward preventing opioid abuse in Arlington.

Lots of care

In 10 months of speaking with town employees, residents and government officials, I’ve come to see that Arlington is made up of residents who have lots of empathy for their community – and that, for many here, the health and happiness of residents is of great importance.

Now, with the money the town is set to receive from the settlements (more than $1 million over the next 14 to 17 years), time can be devoted and resources can be created to show those in town who are affected by substance abuse, in any capacity, that a safer, sober future is possible for them. 

And that knowledge is still needed. Just days ago in Arlington -- June 25 -- the APD received a report of a methamphetamine overdose. Although change is being initiated and money is becoming available, this problem is ongoing, and people are still suffering. 

My biggest hope when residents read this series is that they walk away considering a new perspective when thinking about substance abuse – one that recognizes the epidemic as a matter of a mental-health crisis rather than strictly a criminal one.

I hope that those who relate to what they read in this series will realize that they are not alone in these experiences. I hope that friends and family of somebody who uses are encouraged to seek resources through the town – and that anybody battling addiction now will feel more comfortable coming forward for help, knowing that they will not be judged. 

We want your comments

YourArlington invites the public to comment about this series. You may do so below at the Comment window below (you do not have to log in), or you may email a letter to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. In both cases, you must provide your full name.

Going forward, YourArlington plans to publish a list of resources on the national and local level for those struggling with substance abuse, and therefore it is inviting readers to send in suggestions for places, people or services that they believe should be included. 


This explanation and plea for opinion was published Monday, July 1, 2024. The two final parts of the four-part series are planned to be published later this month.

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Comments

Guest - Wilma Wasco on Saturday, 06 July 2024 12:58
Thoughts on the Your Arlington Opioid Series

As both an Arlington resident and a family friend of Brynn O’Connor, I would like to share my somewhat unbiased opinion of the opioid series.

I found the first two articles in the series very timely and informative, and I am impressed that Your Arlington has devoted the appropriate resources to be able to report on such a challenging subject professionally and thoroughly. I was unaware of the level of local services available to those caught up in the opioid cycle, and I am pleased and proud to learn that my taxes are supporting such services.
The in-depth article about Tommy Caccavaro was very engaging and succeeded in helping me better understand the causes and perils associated with addiction as well as the complicated process of beating it. Again, I had no idea that Arlington provides recovery coach services and I am happy to know that this resource is available to Arlington residents. I appreciate the extended length and depth of the first two articles in the series, which I believe are entirely appropriate for the Arlington audience overall, and I look forward to the final two articles!

I am well aware that nationwide there is an increasing lack of local news coverage, and I am gratified that Your Arlington has expanded its scope to include tough but timely subjects.

As both an Arlington resident and a family friend of Brynn O’Connor, I would like to share my somewhat unbiased opinion of the opioid series. I found the first two articles in the series very timely and informative, and I am impressed that Your Arlington has devoted the appropriate resources to be able to report on such a challenging subject professionally and thoroughly. I was unaware of the level of local services available to those caught up in the opioid cycle, and I am pleased and proud to learn that my taxes are supporting such services. The in-depth article about Tommy Caccavaro was very engaging and succeeded in helping me better understand the causes and perils associated with addiction as well as the complicated process of beating it. Again, I had no idea that Arlington provides recovery coach services and I am happy to know that this resource is available to Arlington residents. I appreciate the extended length and depth of the first two articles in the series, which I believe are entirely appropriate for the Arlington audience overall, and I look forward to the final two articles! I am well aware that nationwide there is an increasing lack of local news coverage, and I am gratified that Your Arlington has expanded its scope to include tough but timely subjects.
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