Opioid Task Force in Massachusetts Recommends $27 Million Plan to Combat Addiction

opioid epidemic

Of all the substances to which individuals can become addicted, rates of addiction to opioids are at an all-time high, dwarfing the addiction rates of virtually every other class of mind-altering substances. In fact, the phrase “opioid epidemic” has been used lately, referring to the spread and growth of alcohol and drug dependency rates over large geographic areas; however, it might be more appropriate to consider addiction to be as pandemic rather than an epidemic as the rapid growth has been experienced in most countries around the world. As a result of this growing threat, there has been a number of policy changes both the state and federal level with the hope of curbing the rates at which individuals are developing an addiction to opiates.

Like much of the northeastern and the mid-Atlantic United States, the state of Massachusetts has also been experiencing alarming rates of addiction, especially when it comes to opioid drugs such as heroin and prescription pain medication. Although there have been a number of changes in federal regulations regarding the production of prescription pain medication as well as regulations pertaining to the prescription and management of opioids, many states have taken matters into their own hands in the hope of curbing rates of opioid dependency. According to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who was inaugurated earlier this year, the state of opioid abuse and dependency rates in the state of Massachusetts is especially alarming, leading to a new $27 million plan to combat the state’s opioid problem.

Rates of Opioid Addiction in Massachusetts and Nationwide

Estimates from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) put the number of individuals suffering from addiction to prescription opioids in 2012 at 2.1 million in the United States with 467,000 individuals suffering from heroin addiction; since then, rates of heroin addiction have continued to rise at a rapid pace while rates of addiction to prescription pain medication have mostly held. This has led to a rise in unintentional deaths due to overdose, which has quadrupled among addicts of prescription painkillers since 1999.

Last year, Governor Deval Patrick declared opiate abuse to be a public health emergency, seeking to institute a number of policy changes directed toward combatting the rising opioid danger in Massachusetts. This included increasing funding for treatment centers and training emergency service and first responders on the use of an overdose reversal drug while the House and Senate expanded the budget for such initiatives and passed a number of other bills that would help to make addiction treatment more accessible to those who need it. However, rates of opioid dependency have continued to risk, both in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and nationwide.

According to recent statistics, there’s consistently been an almost 50 percent year-to-year increase in opioid overdoses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This has led Massachusetts residents to demand more and better addiction treatment in the face of this alarming opioid pandemic, which often focuses on heroin but includes other opiates as well. There are a number of indirect effects of addiction that compound the devastation caused by substance abuse, resulting in increased cases of child abuse and neglect that are caused by parental dependency and addiction.

two guys passing a heroin filled needle

Governor Charlie Baker’s $27 Million Initiative to Combat Opioid Addiction

Due to the high rates of heroin abuse as well as high instances of addiction to all other opioids in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker appointed a high-level working group, an 18-member panel that holds public forums, assesses specific problems as well as related resources, and offers recommendations based on its findings. After hearing the community outcries for increased quality and availability of addiction treatment in order to curb rates of heroin and other opioid addiction, Baker’s task force, as it’s commonly called, has made a whopping 65 recommendations pertaining to addiction prevention, intervention, and treatment. The cost of this initiative and changes to how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts handles substance abuse disorders could reportedly cost the state $27 million next year.

In February of 2015, Baker created several task forces after taking the office, which were intended to develop recommendations for local and statewide policy changes regarding a number of issues that Baker considers a priority for his administration. This task force is one of those that Baker created, in this case, to combat the growing opioid problem in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, particularly with regard to heroin. The task force is chaired by Marylou Sudders—Secretary of Health and Human Services for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts—and includes Attorney General Maura Healey as well as a number of state health care professionals, addiction experts, and law enforcement officials. The task force held four public hearings in cities around the state where they heard from more than 1,000 members of local communities and reviewed thousands of pages of documents.

According to the task force, one of the biggest problems was the lack of treatment available through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There are only beds available for a fraction of the population of addicts in need of treatment with two counties not having a single treatment facility for individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders. Per the task force’s recommendations, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will expand the state’s addiction treatment capacity by adding a minimum of 100 beds throughout the state no later than July 2016. Additionally, there will be pilot programs enacted that give those suffering from substance abuse disorders who don’t have a general practitioner walk-in access to certain clinics and urgent care facilities so they can receive the referrals necessary to begin addiction treatment. The state will also make recovery coaches available in hospital emergency rooms as a result of the high instance of overdose and opioid-related deaths occurring throughout the state while also creating a statewide database so that individuals can readily find the addiction treatment services that they need. The task force also recommended loosening restrictions on medications used to treat addiction, involving the state’s partnership with federal officials to make treatment with medication a viable option for those suffering from opiate addiction.

In terms of prevention, the task force outlined a drug take-back program to prevent or limit excess prescription pain medications that are available for abuse. There were many recommendations pertaining to education initiatives to help the communities statewide learn more about addiction as a disease, including school programs, special training for those who care for pregnant women, and appointing addiction specialists to medical and health care boards, especially boards for health care provider. The task force also made recommendations that involved removing many of the authorization barriers and restrictions in place that make it more difficult for those in need to enroll in treatment programs, which included a number of insurance reforms to make referral and authorization a quicker process and to cover addiction treatment under government health plans. Baker’s task force devised a full action plan that consisted of 65 actionable recommendations, which is available online.

Are You or Someone You Know Struggling with Addiction?

If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction to opioids or any other dangerous substance, call Recovery Hub today 888-220-4352. Our recovery specialists are on standby, waiting to help you return to a life of sobriety, health, and fulfillment.

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