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After a rash of drug overdoses in the state, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Ed Markey was in Taunton Monday to outline his goals for combating drug addiction here and across the country.
"We cannot wait to reduce the harms of addiction now," Markey said. "We must take action to immediately interrupt the epidemic and reduce its tragic effects."
So far this year, the city of Taunton has reported more than 60 drug overdoses, five of them fatal. Brockton has had six overdose-related deaths in roughly a week. And Norfolk County is coming off a record year for overdose deaths.
Markey, who was joined by White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, said the first order of business is getting funding for all first responders to carry Narcan — a drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.
It's already being used in some Massachusetts communities. Quincy Police say Narcan has been used more than 200 times since the city partnered with the state Department of Public Health three years ago. Kerlikowske said that in each case, the overdose victim survived.
"In Quincy, where they've saved over 200 people, only a handful of those people have received Narcan more than once," Kerlikowske added.
Second, Markey said, is the need for a federal Good Samaritan law. Markey said he plans to introduce federal legislation that would protect anyone who reports an overdose from any civil liability. The third step Markey suggested is making it easier and more affordable for addicts to get help.
Chris Herren, a recovering addict and former Boston Celtic, recounted his own experience of being pulled from a car accident after overdosing.
"About five minutes after being administered Narcan, I was brought to Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, Massachusetts and was readied to be released 20 minutes later," he said. "What needs to be in place are beds for addicts to land on after Narcan has been administered."
Others in the room told similar stories. One woman said her insurance refused to pay for her son's stay at an in-patient rehabilitation clinic. Several months later, her son overdosed on heroin in a sober home on Cape Cod.
Under the federal health care law, insurers are required to provide coverage for both inpatient and outpatient substance abuse care, though some carriers can limit that to just 20 days per year. The National Institute of Drug Abuse says the most effective rehabilitation plans are at least three months.
Correction: An earlier version of this Web report included a quotation from Markey on overdoses as the No. 3-leading killer in America. That statistic is not correct. We regret the error. The audio version of the story contained the incorrect quotation, so we've removed it.
This segment aired on February 24, 2014. The audio for this segment is not available.