WBUR

Mass. Opiate Abuse Task Force Weighs Recommendations

BOSTON — A state opiate abuse task force plans to send its policy recommendations to Gov. Deval Patrick by the end of next week.

The task force, assembled by Gov. Patrick to help determine how the state should spend $20 million designated to increase treatment and recovery services, is trying to figure out how to prevent the state’s growing drug abuse epidemic from getting worse.

The group, which met Wednesday, includes public officials, doctors, insurance providers and first responders.

Ted Joubert, North Attleboro’s fire chief and a member of the task force, said he’s dealing with overdoses regularly.

“We had an overdose of a 23-year-old young man at one of our local hotels, and he succumbed,” Joubert said. “About three hours later, we had another overdose of another young man at Applebee’s. We’re dealing with this way, way too frequently.”

Joubert said first responders are often dealing with people leery of asking for help. He said families and addicts might trust firefighters and paramedics more, but those emergency workers often don’t know where to send drug users for additional help.

“Out of this, I would like to see us get a little bit more guidance as to where we can direct these families to go and get treatment,” Joubert said.

The task force also includes families impacted by drug abuse. Paul Kusiak, of Beverly, has two sons in recovery. He said too often the system is backwards, focusing on recovery instead of education and prevention.

“Until we address stigma, denial, ignorance and the biggest thing, I think, accountability, it’s almost like we’re forever cleaning up the wreckage of substance abuse,” Kusiak said.

According to a new WBUR poll, 57 percent of Massachusetts likely voters aged 18 to 29 say they know someone who has struggled with an opiate addiction in the last year.

One dilemma is that officials know opiate abuse is a problem, but they have difficulty quantifying how big of a problem it is.

State Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett said she wants to get better data on overdosing, not just overdoses that lead to fatalities. She also said strengthening prescription monitoring programs and adding targeted treatment for specific populations — like women and youth — is important.

Also key for Bartlett is better coordination for care, perhaps a central assessment center.

“We think the fragmentation often gets people lost in these transitions of care,” Bartlett said.

The Department of Public Health plans to give the governor a final list of policy recommendations by the end of next week.

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