By Andy McKeever
05:32PM / Friday, June 05, 2015
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Attorney General Maura Healey says heroin abuse is her office’s top priority.
On Friday, her focus on that took her to the Berkshires where she met with the legislative delegation, district attorney, sheriff, and Berkshire Health Systems representatives.
Healey says she wants more efforts to prevent opioid abuse and better access to treatment.
“The good news is that I see folks in this community working so hard — the legislators, the district attorney, the sheriff, and most importantly the health care providers. We talked about the importance of prevention, treatment, more access to beds, better insurance coverage for treatments and services, and the importance of destigmatizing this,” Healey said.
Heroin and prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic across the nation. Healey says instead of focusing attention on law enforcement, she wants to treat addiction like a disease.
“From that process we will have some really good recommendations. And we need to be focused on action. People are dying every day; are overdosing every day in this state. We see it in our emergency rooms, in our courts, what police and fire are having to deal with,” Healey said.
The governor has launched a working group to development a statewide strategy to fight the scourge. But, Healey says each community is somewhat different. Friday’s closed-door meeting was a chance for her to see what is happening locally.
“We have been around the state listening to people and listening to people on the front lines about this issue. This was about us getting educated on what is happening in real time in Berkshire County,” Healey said.
The working group and Healey’s office hasn’t come out with any recommendations as of yet. There are a number of bills pending in the Legislature that Healey says she will eventually be supporting.
One of those was a bill submitted by state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli that will force insurance companies to cover addiction treatments. Currently, many companies won’t pay for treatment. Pignatelli says addiction needs to be treated in the same fashion as cancer or other medical issues.
“There is an underbelly here beneath the natural beauty and the culture and arts. There is a sickness here that we need to deal with. We need to deal with it with fairness and equity,” the Lenox Democrat said.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing previously worked on a prescription monitoring program to reduce “doctor shopping” and Healey says there needs to be more resources to bolster that program. There are still too many pills reaching the “black market,” she said.
“Four out of five our our heroin users to today started with prescription drugs,” Healey said.
She added that the state is looking at bulk purchasing of Narcan, which can reverse overdoses, so first responders have access to it. She said she wants that in as many hands as possible and wants it to be at an affordable rate.
Access to treatment programs could help keep people from turning to crime to support the addiction, she said. Efforts like those recently launched in Gloucester where police are opting not to arrest users but instead bring them to rehabilitation are the kinds of actions she’d like to see across the state. She said she supports “any effort on the part of police and law enforcement” to get people into treatment.
She also calls for a crack down on “high-level drug trafficking.”
“In this crisis we need all hands on deck,” Healey said.