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Addiction recovery advocates rally for systemic changes


Greenfield Recorder

Recorder Staff
Monday, October 5, 2015
(Published in print: Tuesday, October 6, 2015)

GREENFIELD — With ears from all levels of government in the room Monday — regional, state and federal — local addiction recovery advocates took the opportunity to point out areas for improvements in how to fight addiction.

During a conference on addiction Monday, Justin McNary of the Greenfield RECOVER Project detailed a 12-day scramble to help a young woman who came into the Greenfield addiction recovery office.

Franklin County Probate and Familry Court Register John Merrigan and Reps. John Kulik, Paul Mark and Susanna Whips-Lee at the Opioid Taks Force meeting at GCC on Monday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Franklin County Probate and Familry Court Register John Merrigan and Reps. John Kulik, Paul Mark and Susanna Whips-Lee at the Opioid Taks Force meeting at GCC on Monday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

At one point she tried to use a dirty needle because nothing else was available, saying she already had Hepatitis C anyway. McNary said all he had to offer was a bleach kit to sterilize it.

Phone calls first found no open treatment beds in the area. She agreed to a voluntary committal for a bed in the women’s treatment prison, avoided when Register of Probate John Merrigan found her an opening in Boston.

Soon she was back in Greenfield, staying with a sober friend with no money to feed two people. Then a guy McNary knew found a treatment opening at the next step. Almost a month later he got a call saying she was safe for the next 90 days in a longer-term program.

“Twelve days to get some kid who wants help into a safe place, I think we can do better. I think with all the talent, power and juice in this room we can make this happen,” McNary said. McNary juxtaposed that experience with talk at a Senate hearing 18 months ago of treatment on demand regardless of ability to pay.

Mary Lou Leary, deputy director of state, local and tribal affairs for the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, was a notable presence at Monday’s meeting of the local Opioid Task Force at Greenfield Community College that featured local legislators, local and regional officials, and Congressman James McGovern.

A former prosecutor, Leary added the White House’s voice to the growing consensus that arrests won’t solve the problem. Leary said the Drug Control Policy Office advises the president with a policy based on science, not dogma, that drug abuse can be prevented, substance use disorder is a chronic disease of the brain, and people can and do recover with the right treatment.

“I think we are at a unique moment in time here … the whole discourse on drugs is changing dramatically,” Leary said.

Leary said the office’s priorities — all relative to prescription pills, a common but not exclusive path to heroin — are to educate prescribers and patients about the risks and safe practices, establish effective prescription monitoring systems in every state and make them share information, reduce pill-mills and make sure everyone has a safe way to dispose of abusable drugs.

Members of the Opioid Task Force, which includes recovering addicts, teachers, doctors, police and the Northwestern District Attorney, have tackled much of this locally.

State Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel said the opioid crisis is the biggest public health crisis the state and country have faced in recent years. Bharel said providing timely data has been a priority of hers, where the office until recently released data at least two years behind and no longer relevant or actionable.

Bharel also said the department is in the process of relaunching the prescription monitoring program in simpler form easier to integrate into work flow. Some prescribers have described the existing online system as cumbersome or a dinosaur, and many don’t use it. The DPH is also working with medical schools on an agreement to add pain management and addiction to core competencies for graduates, she said.

Timothy Purington, Tapestry Health director of prevention services and on the local speaker panel, took the opportunity to point out the existence of a federal ban on using federal money for needle exchange programs, which he said play a critical role in fighting disease. Pointing to Greenfield’s rising Hepatitis C rate, Purington said the area is fortunate not to have seen an HIV outbreak like Indiana’s. Purington said he was sorry to see nothing about infectious disease in the Baker administration’s recommendations, and suggested a change to the federal spending rule as a no-cost improvement.

Dr. Robert Roose, addiction services chief at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Springfield, said the federal caps on the number of patients doctors may prescribe opioid replacement therapy drugs to should be removed, nurse practitioners should be allowed to prescribe the therapy buprenorphine or Suboxone and laws requiring insurers treat mental and physical health equally should be enforced. At the local level, Roose said people should fight the outdated not-in-my-backyard argument to treatment programs.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257