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New England News

Governor's Task Force Hears Pleas For Help To Combat Opioid Crisis

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WAMC
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More than 200 people came to Greenfield Community College last night to address the opioid crisis  task force appointed by the governor of Massachusetts.  The panel was told heroin use and pain pill abuse is rampant in the state’s rural towns.  

The panel heard emotional pleas for help and thoughtful suggestions on actions the state should take to combat drug addiction and curb overdose deaths, which state officials said jumped 46 percent last year.

Tracy Lord of Turners Falls said drugs have devastated her family.

" My sister is on methadone, she abuses it. My step-sister is dead from heroin. My nephew is in jail for the same," she told the panel as she fought back tears.  " There has to be something done."

The panel heard pleas for more treatment beds, insurance reforms to pay for medical care and support services that go beyond the typical 3-5 day detoxification programs, and mandatory drug education in the schools starting as early as the third grade.

Lauren Geanaecopolus of Townsend, whose 32-year-old son died of a heroin overdose, implored the panel not to ignore the role of law enforcement.

" All his drugs came from the streets. They come up the east coast from Miami to Lowell and Worcester and out they go," she said.  " I'm sure you all know that," she added.

The 17-member working group announced last month by Governor Charlie Baker consists of people with experience in drug use prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement.  The panel is chaired by the Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders.

" Clearly, we want to reduce the number of people dying from opioid addiction in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," she said.

Sudders said the panel expects to make recommendations that build on the work started over the past 12 months after former Governor Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency due to the skyrocketing number of drug-related deaths.

The Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region was created two years ago.  Franklin County Sheriff Chris Donelan, who is the task force co-chairman, said they’ve succeeded in raising awareness about the issue and securing more treatment beds in the region, but there is still a crisis.

" Just in Franklin county our February numbers were 17 overdoses and four deaths," he said.  " We had some good numbers for a while, but we need to stay vigilant and keep at it."

Devon McNabb, who said he became addicted to oxycodone after he was prescribed the powerful painkiller following major surgery, advocated for long-term support programs.

" You need anywhere from 30 days-90 days for people who have gone sober for the first time in years," he said.  " People finally feel like they are getting their life in order and then they don't have insurance to pay for it anymore."

Nicole Zabko, the public health director for the city of Greenfield, said the panel should focus on prevention.

" Getting programs in the schools starting at a younger age than they have been to address drugs in general,"  she said.

About 400 people turned out for the first public meeting of the governor’s working group in Worcester earlier this month.  Two additional public hearings, in Plymouth and in Boston, are scheduled.

Comments are also being taken by email at AddictionWorkGroup@state.ma.us

The panel’s recommendations are expected by the end of May.      

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