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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Governor Patrick Takes Bold Steps on Opiate Abuse

Governor Patrick Takes Bold Steps on Opiate Abuse

March 27, 2014

HCFA would like to applaud the Governor on his action today regarding opiate abuse (see story: Opiate Abuse Stirs Gov. Patrick To Declare Public Health Emergency). The Commonwealth has long struggled with the public health issue of opioid addiction and Governor Patrick’s declaration implements much needed interventions.

In Massachusetts we are losing hundreds of our citizen to a public health epidemic that shows no signs of slowing. Instead with the influx of a higher grade of heroin in larger supply, it will only increase.  The heroin has become cheaper, a stronger “high,” and more plentiful on our streets.  With experimentation of narcotics happening at a younger age, not only is it important we find ways to treat the rising tide of addiction but it is a necessity to secure the future health of the next generation.

By treating opiate addiction we are not only thinking in terms of a humanitarian public health response but also that of a fiscal response. If opiate addiction is treated in the early stages in becomes more manageable system-wide.  Public services like police, e.m.t., emergency rooms, shelters will benefit from less strain to their already limited resources.

How does one treat opiate addiction if it is so prevalent and widespread? The most crucial aspect is educating both the public and the abuser that addiction is a clinical issue. This is a medical condition to be treated as we treat any progressive and life threatening illness. Does this mean we condone the actions of the addict? No. We must recognize that some behaviors however are symptoms of the underlying illness, and by treating that illness we will in fact alleviate some, if not all of those symptoms.  The other key to treating this addiction is having the resources from a public health sector available to both identify the substance use and have adequate resources in place to treat. This means publically funding programs that not only detoxify the person but teach them to live without the drug in their life.

The Governor set out two major policy steps today:

  • Permission for first responders to carry and administer Naloxone, known as Narcan, a so-called opioid antagonist that can prevent deaths in overdose cases. State officials also announced Narcan will be made available through prescriptions in pharmacies so it will be available to individuals who fear a loved one might overdose.
  • A Department of Public Health mandate that physicians and pharmacies use prescription monitoring to guard against abuse or misuse of prescriptions. The program has been voluntary.

We applaud our Governor's bold steps today. 
     -Paul Williams