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Calls For Better Opioid Addiction Treatment At 1st Meeting Of Baker's Panel04:23
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Officials are seeking new ways to stem the opioid crisis in Massachusetts. (Michael Dwyer/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Officials are seeking new ways to stem the opioid crisis in Massachusetts. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Gov. Charlie Baker's administration is hearing calls for more and better addiction treatment as the state struggles with an opioid and heroin addiction epidemic.

Hundreds turned out in Worcester Tuesday for the first public meeting of a panel appointed by Baker to gather input on the addiction crisis.

The latest statistics show an almost 50 percent year-to-year increase in opioid overdose deaths across Massachusetts.

Worcester Juvenile Court Judge Carol Erskine has seen a lot in her courtroom and at Tuesday night's meeting, she told the governor's working group that addiction is causing big problems.

"Our court sees many — in the last two years, shockingly — kids who are 14, 15, 16 years of age, using drugs, using opiates," she said. "Some [are] living on the outskirts of the city with their drug dealers in tents. These are the kinds of things we're seeing — only to then deal with only two programs statewide to deal with the detoxification of juveniles."

The latest statistics show an almost 50 percent year-to-year increase in opioid overdose deaths across Massachusetts.

Erskine said she's also seen a surge in child abuse and neglect cases because of addiction.

The judge was among the more than 40 people who spoke to the group from an audience that included treatment providers, those struggling with addiction and their loved ones.

Many people told the 17-member panel about friends and family who have fatally overdosed. One man, who didn't give his name, said his 25-year-old sister-in-law died two weeks ago.

"The fire is out of control, and we're trying to put it out with a garden hose. We need more facilities, we need more beds, and we need people who actually care," the man said.

Treatment was a huge topic — not only did many say there are not enough beds, but they also said insurance often does not cover treatment. One woman said she bought drugs for her daughter in order to have a positive drug test for insurance to cover treatment.

Some said that family members who have overdosed and were taken to a hospital were released after just a few hours because of a lack of beds or insurance coverage. Several people described what they called cycling through detoxification facilities where a stay is typically three to five days, and once someone is medically stable, they're released.

"The fire is out of control, and we're trying to put it out with a garden hose. We need more facilities, we need more beds, and we need people who actually care."

A man who spoke at the public meeting

Annie Parkinson, a recovery counselor, said state officials need to commit resources and act quickly.

"In the last six years, I've buried 24 to 27, 28 people. Talk is cheap. A year ago, I sat on an opiate roundtable at city hall ... and you know what happened? Nothing," she said. "One overdose is too many. I know it's complicated, and I know it's hard, but we have to stop reinventing the wheel."

The speakers also called for improved education and prevention efforts, but several people urged the group not to limit access to opioids for those who need them to manage pain.

Claire Sampson is a nurse who is also with the Massachusetts Pain Initiative, a group working to improve pain management. She asked the panel to think about addiction and prescription painkillers separately.

"Opioids are not evil. Opioids are a tool to relieve acute pain and to manage the pain and symptoms associated with chronic illness," Sampson said. "Addiction is also a disease. Opioids are abused by those with the disease of addiction. Opioids do not cause addiction."

The governor's opioid working group was formed last month as state officials announced that 978 people died from opioid overdoses in Massachusetts in 2013 — a 46 percent increase from the year before.

Marylou Sudders, the state's health and human services secretary, chairs the working group. She says the state will have to balance the call for more treatment resources and a more than $1 billion budget deficit.

"In government one always has to prioritize," she said. "There is clearly an epidemic. We can label it, we can contain it, but then we have to treat it."

The group will hold three more meetings and make recommendations to the governor in May.

This segment aired on March 11, 2015.

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