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Markey Calls For Expanded Treatment To Address Drug Abuse Crisis

U.S. Senator Edward Markey
WAMC
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U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts is calling for a three pronged approach to the current drug abuse crisis that has produced an alarming spike in deaths blamed on heroin overdoses.

Senator Markey wants an expanded effort to prevent overdose deaths, increased availability of treatment for drug addiction, and to speed the rollout of new and improved treatments.

" We have to get at this issue and do it soon, because it has already doubled the number of deaths in Massachusetts in the last ten years and it will double it again. That is why I'm concerned about it."

Markey discussed the drug abuse crisis with health care providers, law enforcement officers, state and local elected officials from throughout western Massachusetts at a meeting Friday at the Holyoke Health Center.  Massachusetts Congressman  Richard Neal was also at the meeting.

Nationwide, drug overdoses are killing more than 100 people per day.  More than 30 heroin deaths have been recorded in Hampden and Hampshire counties since November.  Authorities blame the availability of relatively inexpensive heroin, the practice of mixing it with other drugs, and waiting lists at treatment centers for drug addiction.

Markey said a chemical compound, know by the brand name  Narcan, and used as  an  antidote to opiate overdose ,should be in the hands of all first responders and other people trained to administer it.  He’s authored legislation that would shield people from the risk of civil lawsuits for trying to save a person’s life by using Narcan.

" My law will give immunity to the Good Samaritans who will step up when they see an overdose."

President Obama in the federal budget released this week proposed a $26 million increase in funding for drug treatment programs. Markey called that a good, but small step.

" We have to finally begin to treat this as a medical epidemic in our country."

Markey called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to focus on new drug addiction treatments that are being developed. 

Amanda Wilson, president of the Clean Slate Addiction Treatment Centers, said she applauded Markey’s passion and concern.  She said a federal law capping at 100 the number of patients an addiction specialist can treat at any one time should be changed.  Wilson said it would help reduce the wait for treatment.

"Patients are commuting from Burlington, VT. where there is a two and a-half year wait list to get into one of my centers in Greenfield, Mass.  It is an incredible wait list. There are no where near  enough providers and no where near enough spots and no where near enough care and care is how we will prevent disease."

The Holyoke  Health Center, where Friday’s conference took place, admits one new patient a day for addiction treatment.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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