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Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Domenic J. Sarno announced today that the City of Springfield filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, board members, and executives who caused the nation’s devastating opioid epidemic.

The civil complaint was filed in Hampden Superior Court on Dec. 18. The complaint alleges that Springfield, along with many other communities, is currently experiencing a stark increase in the number of residents who have become addicted to prescription opioids and heroin that has caused an increase in opioid overdoses. The complaint references a report that prescription opioids are now known to be the “gateway” drug to heroin; approximately 80% of current heroin users got their start with prescription opioids.

According to the complaint, unlike any other epidemic, the opioid epidemic is not natural, nor typical, but largely man-made. It has been created, fueled, and continues to expand by the persistent unlawful conduct of the defendant pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmaceutical wholesale distributors.

Echoing the allegations in the complaint, Sarno stated, “A pharmaceutical manufacturer should never place its desire for profits above the health and well-being of its customers. Drug manufacturers have a legal duty to ensure that their products are accompanied by full and accurate instructions and warnings to guide prescribing doctors and other healthcare providers in making treatment decisions. Pharmaceutical manufacturers have legal duties to tell the truth when marketing their drugs and to ensure that their marketing claims are supported by science and medical evidence. A pharmaceutical distributor of controlled substances has a legal duty to conduct its business lawfully, carefully, and in a manner that does not irresponsibly and unreasonably saturate a community with opioids.  Executives of a pharmaceutical company, have a legal obligation to ensure that their company conducts itself in a manner compliant with the law that is designed to protect rather than harm patients. Defendants broke these simple rules.” 

Springfield’s complaint was filed in conjunction with similar actions brought by Haverhill, Framingham, Gloucester, Salem, Lynnfield, and Wakefield, and the City of Worcester, all represented by Scott+Scott. Partner Judy Scolnick of Scott+Scott said, “we are honored to have been selected to represent Springfield in this important lawsuit. The dedicated employees of Springfield are doing all they can to try to ameliorate the devastation left in the wake of the defendant manufacturers’ and distributors’ greed-driven scheme to increase the sale of opioid pills.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The law firm Bacon Wilson announced that attorney Christopher D. Pierson has joined the firm as counsel, together with associate Attorneys Ryan K. O’Hara and Elizabeth T. Mone.

Pierson is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully tried numerous cases to verdict in courts across Massachusetts. His practice encompasses all aspects of civil litigation, including commercial disputes, individual matters, and personal injury. He is a graduate of Northeastern University Law School and Gettysburg College.

O’Hara is an associate with the firm’s litigation team, where much of his work is focused on contract and business matters, land use litigation, and accidents and injuries. Prior to joining Bacon Wilson, O’Hara spent one year clerking for Justice C. Jeffrey Kinder of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Ryan graduated summa cum laude from Western New England University School of Law, and received his B.A. from Tufts University.

Mone, known as Liza, is an associate in Bacon Wilson’s estates and probate department, where she works on matters related to estate and asset planning, trusts, long-term care planning, and matters of guardianship/conservatorship. Prior to joining Bacon Wilson, she worked as a staff attorney for the New Hampshire Public Defender. Liza graduated magna cum laude from Boston College Law School, and received her B.A. from Middlebury College. She is licensed to practice in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Daily News

WESTBOROUGH  The Mass. Broadband Institute at MassTech (MBI) has formally approved an award of $2.2 million to Comcast to support the construction of a broadband network in the town of Worthington.

The grant, which was approved by both the MassTech Executive Committee and by the MBI Board of Directors, followed a majority vote at Worthington’s town meeting in May choosing Comcast and supporting the construction of its advanced fiber network to deliver broadband to the town, including approval of a project coverage map. Comcast and Worthington also signed a formal Cable Franchise Agreement on Dec. 11. The proposed broadband network will deliver expanded connectivity to over 96% of Worthington’s residential and business premises once the project is complete.

Under the grant agreement, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will provide an award of $2,213,809 from the Last Mile program, funds which will supplement Comcast’s capital investment in the construction of the Worthington network. The MBI will utilize Worthington’s original Last Mile allocation of $1,070,000, with the remaining funds coming from additional investments from both the Commonwealth and the town, utilizing an agreement which will allow the town to contribute year over year without having to use municipal bonds.

“The Last Mile program has made great progress in identifying and funding projects that will help close the connectivity gaps in these towns, through public-private partnerships like this, and through the Commonwealth’s support for municipal-owned networks in 20-plus towns,” said Governor Charlie Baker. 

As part of the grant agreement, the Commonwealth provided an initial disbursement of $20,000 for Comcast to complete field surveys in Worthington to determine which of the town’s residential premises were serviceable, helping identify the target of 96 percent of the total residential premises along public roads in the town. Following that assessment, Comcast presented its findings to the Worthington Select Board, which reviewed and approved the preliminary coverage maps, leading to the official signing of the Cable Television License Agreement between the town and Comcast. Under all public/private awards in the Last Mile program, local approval is a key step to state funds being awarded.

Daily News

BusinessWest is currently accepting nominations for the 40 Under Forty Class of 2019. The deadline for nominations in Feb. 15.

Launched in 2007, the program recognizes rising stars in the four counties of Western Mass. Nominations, which should be detailed in nature, should list an individual’s accomplishments within their profession as well as their work within the community. Nominations can be completed online by visiting www.businesswest.com, clicking on ‘Our Events,’ and then‘40 Under Forty.’

Nominations will be weighed by a panel of judges. The selected individuals will be profiled in the April 29 issue of BusinessWest, and honored at the 40 Under Forty Gala on June 20 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

Daily News

AMHERST — Anne Massey, professor and Ruth L. Nelson Chair of Business at the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, has been named dean of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. The appointment of Massey, who built her career at Indiana University, was made by John McCarthy, provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. 

“Anne Massey is an excellent choice to lead the Isenberg School,” McCarthy said. “Not only is she a leading scholar in information systems, but her varied senior leadership experience at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University Bloomington makes her uniquely qualified to take Isenberg into its next chapter.”

Massey, the Isenberg School’s first female dean, succeeds Mark Fuller, who served in the position from 2009 to 2018 and is now vice chancellor for Advancement at UMass Amherst. She will assume her new duties in August. Isenberg is currently led by interim Dean Tom Moliterno.

“I am very excited to be part of a school with so much momentum and energy, and to join a diverse and vibrant research campus like UMass Amherst,” Massey said. 

At Wisconsin, Massey served briefly as dean of the Business school, and she has been leading a collaboration between the schools of Business, Engineering and Human Ecology with a focus on creating a new master of science degree in design and innovation that will launch in 2020.

Her efforts to develop cross-disciplinary programs started during her 22-year tenure at Indiana’s Kelley School of Business, where she recently served as founding co-chair of the Intelligent Systems Engineering Program in the School of Informatics and Computing. In that role, she collaborated with faculty from that school and Kelley as well as the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and the Maurer School of Law to design and implement a new undergraduate curriculum.

In 2012, Massey worked with Indiana University colleagues to create the Center of Excellence for Women in Technology, the nation’s first large, interdisciplinary initiative to support students, faculty, staff, and alumni in embracing technology across the university. “The center reflects my keen interest in making and leading relationships to advance research collaborations, education, and community building,” she said.

Massey also focuses on collaborations outside of academia. She spent six years during her time at Kelley serving as executive director for Information Management Affiliates, an industry-university cooperative involving more than 20 businesses and nonprofits.

Massey’s academic positions at Indiana University and Kelley included associate vice president for University Academic Affairs, associate vice provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, chair of Doctoral Programs, and founding chair of the Information Systems department. She has received several awards for teaching undergraduate and graduate business courses, including the Indiana University board of trustees’ Distinguished Teaching Award.

Her primary research focuses on innovation processes and strategies and the role of technology as an enabler of collaborative work. Her research has garnered federal, foundation, and industry funding, and her articles have been published in leading academic journals. Massey’s professional honors include being ranked in the top 2.5% of all information-systems researchers publishing in high-impact journals.

Massey earned her bachelor’s degree in management, a master’s degree in industrial engineering, and a Ph.D. in decision sciences from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Upon the passing last week of Audrey Geisel, widow of Theodor Seuss Geisel, the Springfield Museums remembered her as a champion of her late husband’s work and as a generous philanthropist. That generosity has had a deep and lasting impact on the Springfield Museums.

Following the death of Theodor Geisel — better known as Dr. Seuss — in 1991, his wife, Audrey, authorized the Springfield Museums to create the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. More than 4 million people have visited the attraction since it opened in 2002. The sculpture garden — and its many visitors — inspired the creation of The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, said Springfield Museums President and CEO Kay Simpson.

“The number-one request after the sculptures were installed was for a Dr. Seuss museum,” Simpson noted. “Audrey Geisel was integral to the Sculpture Garden, stepping forward with a $1 million donation that kicked off a major fundraising effort for the project. And she was also in full support of creating The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, granting us permissions to use Dr. Seuss assets. Audrey helped make it all happen. She wanted to honor Ted’s Springfield roots. Audrey was a great friend to the museums, and we are saddened by her passing.”

Audrey Geisel had a special relationship with Springfield. Not long after her marriage to Ted in 1968, the couple flew to Springfield to visit Ted’s father and oversee his move to a nursing home. It was her first visit to the city that had nurtured the creative genius of the man she had so recently married.

Close to 20 years later, Audrey and Ted returned to Springfield in 1986 to see an exhibition of his work that had been mounted at the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum. The exhibition included sketches and drawings from 14 of his books, including And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which is based on a real street in Springfield. The Springfield City Schools had launched “Seussamania,” a three-month program in reading and creative writing, and Ted promised to appear as part of the festivities. Ted and Audrey walked down Mulberry Street, and then-Mayor Richard Neal took them on a tour through Forest Park, where Ted’s father had been the long-time superintendent. Neal also presented Ted with a special memento: a weathered sign reading Geisel Grove, which children had found high in a tree near the Forest Park picnic grove frequented by the family in Ted’s youth and named in his honor. The sign now hangs in a gallery on the second floor of The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum.

During that time of Dr. Seuss birthday celebrations in 1986, David Starr, then chair of the Springfield Museums, sat next to Ted Geisel at a dinner and a struck up a friendship. Later, Starr proposed that a sculpture garden be created in Ted’s memory on the grounds of the Springfield Museums. Although Geisel initially demurred, Starr prevailed over time, and Ted agreed to help with this venture. An economic downturn delayed the project, and Ted died before the project was re-started.

Audrey took up the cause together with then-Springfield Museums President Joe Carvalho. Audrey Geisel stepped forward with a $1 million donation to jump-start the fundraising campaign. Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, Audrey’s daughter, was chosen from among 35 other sculptors for her talent and for her ability to stay true to the spirit of Dr. Seuss’ original work. On May 31, 2002, six and a half years later, the sculpture garden opened to tremendous fanfare with Audrey, Lark, and many family members in attendance. 

Fifteen years later, The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss opened its doors. Audrey’s daughters — Dimond-Cates and Leagrey Dimond — stepped forward to donate many of Ted’s personal items, including his drawing desk and chair, original artwork, and rare memorabilia, to the museum. Since the museum opened, the Springfield Museums have doubled attendance, and the project has generated a more than $16 million impact on the city of Springfield.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Due to the lapse of appropriations and the subsequent shutdown of the federal government, Springfield Armory National Historic Site is closed for the safety of visitors and park resources. 

Many other national park sites across the country will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. Park roads, lookouts, trails, and open-air memorials will remain accessible to visitors, but emergency and rescue services will be limited.

Visit www.nps.gov and select “Find a Park” for additional information about access to other parks and sites in this area. However, note that, because of the federal government shutdown, National Park Service social media and websites are not being monitored or updated and may not reflect current conditions. 

For updates on the shutdown, visit www.doi.gov/shutdown.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Richard Venne, CEO of Viability, announced the appointment of Joseph Wendover as chief Human Resources and Diversity officer.

Wendover was previously the Corporate Field Inclusion manager at Walgreens Boots Alliance and was an active member of Viability’s board of directors before accepting his current position. He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and his master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology from University of New Haven.

As the Corporate Field Inclusion manager for Walgreens Boots Alliance, Wendover successfully placed more than 250 people with disabilities into Walgreens’ Connecticut-based New England Distribution Center and developed a diversity program that was replicated throughout the division in 18 other centers. He also currently serves as board president for the Connecticut Business Leadership Network, a member of the Connecticut State Rehabilitation Council, and a member of the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. He has more than 12 years of hands-on experience within human resources, diversity, and inclusion and 10 years of experience working directly with Viability as a board member and advocate.

Viability is a provider of human services, accredited by CARF and certified by Clubhouse International, the Department of Developmental Services, and the Department of Medical Assistance. Viability leverages community and employer partnerships to create opportunities for its members. With a staff of more than 500 individuals and 37 service locations across the country, Viability continues to be driven by the belief that every individual, no matter their ability, can be a valuable contributor to the community and workforce. Its service divisions include clubhouses, employment, community living, day programs, and transitional programs.

Cover Story

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Features

High Stakes

NETA’s Leslie Laurie (left), regional director for Western Mass. and director of patient services, and Angela Cheek, dispensary manager.

NETA’s Leslie Laurie (left), regional director for Western Mass. and director of patient services, and Angela Cheek, dispensary manager.

It’s been an eventful six years since voters first approved marijuana sales to treat medical conditions back in 2012. From that vote sprang New England Treatment Access (NETA) three years ago, and last month, the dispensary became one of just two stores in Massachusetts selling cannabis products for adult recreational use as well. NETA’s co-founder says the company has proven itself to be a good neighbor and an economic driver — and promises to be even more so in what is certainly a bold new era for marijuana in the Bay State.

When Kevin Fisher came to Massachusetts to help launch a medical-marijuana dispensary, he was already a veteran of the industry in Colorado, with plenty of passion to boot.

Fisher’s family, like so many others, has been struck by cancer, he said, and the idea — first as owner of Rocky Mountain Remedies in Colorado and then, starting in 2015, as co-founder of New England Treatment Access (NETA) — was always to draw in people with chronic and even terminal illness who may consider cannabis a viable therapy.

By the time NETA opened its doors in Northampton and Brookline, the anecdotal evidence for the drug’s effectiveness had been well-established elsewhere, he noted.

“We knew patients were using these therapies for a broad range of conditions,” Fisher told BusinessWest, before praising the law crafted after voters approved legalized medical marijuana in 2012.

“In Massachusetts, they got it right. Instead of legislators playing physician, the law granted physicians the freedom to make recommendations as they saw fit. It was important to maintain the sanctity of that patient-physician relationship. And we wanted to make sure we would provide quality products for patients to meet that broad range of conversations with physicians.”

Now, another law has significantly altered NETA’s business model. On Nov. 20, the company’s Northampton site, as well as Cultivate Holdings, LLC in Leicester, became the first facilities in the Northeast to sell marijuana to the public for adult recreational use.

“We call the individuals who interact with customers our ‘customer service associates.’ We require vigorous training before they’re out on their own, interacting with customers.”

At a press event after the state’s Cannabis Control Commission gave the go-ahead, Amanda Rositano, NETA’s director of operational compliance, said the shop is “beyond thrilled to be a part of this historic moment when NETA Northampton finally gets to open its doors to adults over 21 to provide safe, legal, and regulated cannabis to the people of Massachusetts.”

It’s certainly a welcome shift for many in the Valley, but it comes with challenges — concerning consumer safety, public perceptions, even traffic on Conz Street, which backed up significantly at certain times in the days following Nov. 20. But Fisher said NETA has long been preparing to meet them.

Hannah Rosenbaum, one of NETA’s patient service associates

Hannah Rosenbaum, one of NETA’s patient service associates, with some of the ‘flower’ available for purchase.

Early on, for example, the organization brought in Leslie Laurie, former head of Tapestry Health and a long-time expert in public health in Western Mass., as its regional director. “She had expertise we could benefit from, a perspective on patients’ needs in Western Mass.,” Fisher said.

The founders also assumed — correctly, as it turned out — that the progressive culture in Northampton would prove welcoming to a dispensary that first sold cannabis products to a patients with prescriptions, and, now, to any adult with an ID.

“We felt [Northampton] was the place to go, and the process was pretty smooth,” he added. “I’m thankful for Leslie; she brought a credibility to our organization and the relationships we built with government and law enforcement. And we’ve only continued to build those relationships during the adult-use licensing, because they could appreciate the solid community partners we have been.”

Opening a medical-marijuana dispensary in Brookline, however, was a “whole different beast,” Fisher noted. “There were about 100 meetings required — some open to the media and the public, many with public officials … just meeting after meeting, a lot of hand-holding and reassurance. It was a very rigorous process.”

Despite that tougher road than the Northampton one, NETA felt affirmed when its license with Brookline came up for renewal after the first year. “The town said we didn’t even need to show up for the hearing; it was guaranteed. It made us feel like we had operated in the way we had promised.”

By contrast, Northampton was always a smoother fit, and is currently the only NETA site approved for recreational sales, as the licensing process continues in Brookline.

“A significant portion of the population embraces cannabis use,” Fisher said of the Paradise City, adding that NETA has never taken that goodwill for granted. “We did recognize the traffic and public-safety issues, and the fact that those needed to be carefully managed in a collaborative way.”

Time will tell if issues arise, of course, but for now, Fisher is pleased with the business — customers are still waiting in line most days — and NETA’s continued growth as what he calls a true community partner.

The Ayes Have It

In 2016, four years after the similar vote on medical marijuana, Massachusetts residents voted to legalize recreational sales to adults age 21 years and older. If they present a government-issued ID (such as a driver’s license, ID card, or passport) for verification, customers may purchase up to 1 ounce of ‘flower’ or 5 grams of concentrate. Certain potency restrictions, including a 5 mg serving-size limit for ‘edibles,’ apply to non-medical products.

“A significant portion of the population embraces cannabis use. We did recognize the traffic and public-safety issues, and the fact that those needed to be carefully managed in a collaborative way.”

However, Fisher was quick to note that, with the introduction of recreational sales, NETA’s medical-marijuana patients will remain the shop’s priority. Patients with prescriptions have their own lines, and at least 35% of each day’s inventory is reserved for patients. In short, the customer experience has not changed for people seeking to fill scripts.

As for those waiting in line for recreational sales, Fisher said it typically takes 20 to 30 minutes to get through, but technology is available to shorten the wait NETA uses a reserve-ahead app to view the daily menu, reserve an order online, and have it ready for pickup at a certain time later that day. In addition, for people looking to gauge the wait at any given time, NETA offers continuous live wait-time updates on its website.

It has also doubled customer service staff and remodeled the stores to offer nearly twice as many service stations.

Also ramped up are efforts to educate customers about cannabis products — a key factor, considering that many users are likely to be inexperienced.

“We call the individuals who interact with customers our ‘patient service associates,’” Fisher said, noting that he prefers that over the flip industry term ‘budtenders.’ “We require vigorous training before they’re out on their own, interacting with customers.”

That training — about two months worth — includes everything from understanding the core components of cannabis products to encouraging new users to ‘start low and go slow.’

“That’s a message we drive home again and again to our PSAs and our customers. There will always be more cannabis. So find out what works for you and what doesn’t, and start easy so you don’t have negative outcomes.”

In addition to the ‘low and slow’ guidance, NETA’s consumer-education materials emphasize elements like a ‘what product is right for me’ guide; advice against driving or using heavy machinery under the influence, public consumption, and traveling across state lines; a potency and tolerance tutorial, safe storage; and recognizing substance-abuse signs and identifying resources for additional help.

Recognizing that some of the opposition to legalized marijuana came from individuals concerned about products getting into children’s hands, all NETA product packaging is child-resistant and labeled with revised warnings and clear information to ensure that people can identify edible products as marijuana-infused and not safe for children.

In addition to training staff to emphasize responsible consumption when interacting with consumers, NETA has retained a full-time training coordinator to continuously develop and manage retail-staff training.

Understanding dosage levels is is important, Fisher said, as are reminders that the effects differ between smoking marijuana and ingesting edibles. In the latter case, “you could see a delayed onset, so don’t eat that whole bag if you don’t feel it’s working. That sounds like simple advice, but it’s a big deal for us.”

As it is for the Cannabis Control Commission, which encourages prospective customers to know the law and consume responsibly.

“This signal to open retail marijuana establishments marks a major milestone for voters who approved legal, adult-use cannabis in our state,” Chairman Steven Hoffman said last month. “To get  here, licensees underwent thorough background checks, passed multiple inspections, and had their products tested, all to ensure public health and safety as this new industry gets  up and running. As patrons look forward to visiting Massachusetts stores, we hope they will do their part by first familiarizing themselves with the law and understanding what is required of responsible consumers.”

Growing Concerns

Beyond Northampton and Brookline, Fisher said, NETA’s cultivation facility in Franklin — which has nearly doubled its capacity in anticipation of adult use — continues to invest heavily in research and is developing a pipeline of products designed to improve customers’ experiences and address specific medical conditions and symptoms.

And, make no mistake, even though adults can buy cannabis products without a doctor’s prescription, he added, it still makes sense to receive and renew certification as a patient — not just because of the lessened wait to be served, but because patients also avoid the 20% tax on adult-use sales, and can access a yearly voucher program to help offset the cost of being certified.

He’s also excited about the potential in Massachusetts, considering the scientific and medical resources available locally, to continue researching the benefits of marijuana from a medical perspective. “Clearly, we’re going to get more research; we have some of the brightest minds in the world of healthcare here in Western Mass.”

NETA’s products for sale include not just smokeable flower, but marijuana-infused capsules, lozenges, lotions, chocolate, and much more.

NETA’s products for sale include not just smokeable flower, but marijuana-infused capsules, lozenges, lotions, chocolate, and much more.

Overall, Fisher is a believer in the benefits of this industry, in terms of healthcare, quality of life, and economic benefits, like taxes paid and workers hired. The company employs close to 600 people, more than 100 in Western Mass. alone.

“Billions of dollars are spent yearly in this country [on marijuana], so by regulating it, there’s economic impact that can be realized, taxes to be paid, safety measures put in place … you’re not in someone’s car in an alley.”

And for adults who have no particular health condition but simply want to partake as an escape from life’s stresses, well, he believes there are far worse alternatives for that.

“That’s not to encourage broader consumption of cannabis, but let’s normalize it so parents can talk to their kids about it,” he told BusinessWest. “In Colorado, where it’s a mature industry, the youth rates have gone down. It’s just less cool for kids. There’s more open dialogue. Parents are having more discussions about it.”

And, he was quick to add, that guy selling pot on the corner, in states where it remains illegal, doesn’t check an ID like a responsible dispensary does.

“We’re bringing it from the darkness into the light and realizing a lot of positive outcomes,” he said. “On balance, this is a good thing.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]