The Massachusetts State Senate has formed a special committee to study drug addiction and treatment options in Massachusetts and aims to address an epidemic of opiate addiction in the state. In response to rising levels of drug addiction, the committee plans to review current treatment options and will make recommendations on how to fully address this public health crisis.
The committee is chaired by State Senator, Jennifer Flanagan, and its members are Senators William Brownsberger, John Keenan, Joan Lovely, Linda Dorcena Forry and Richard Ross.
The committee has been holding hearings throughout the Commonwealth. I wanted to ensure that they heard from stakeholders in the Merrimack Valley, so I invited these Senators to hold a hearing in Methuen on Monday, March 31. The Great Hall in Methuen City Hall was filled for the entire hearing as the committee heard testimony from advocates, clinicians, law enforcement, first-responders and residents in the Merrimack Valley about this challenge. The high level of interest is a testament to the fact that substance abuse affects everyone and is a public health epidemic that demands our attention. Clearly there is an urgent need for the Legislature to act quickly.
During the hearing, Police Chief Joseph Solomon of Methuen, Marshall Thomas Howard of Newburyport, Police Chief Thomas Fowler of Salisbury, Lt. William Scholtz of Amesbury, and Methuen Superintendent Judith Scannell amongst others, attended the hearing and testified about the importance of funding preventative and treatment programs. The general consensus in the law enforcement community is that we cannot arrest our way out of substance abuse and its related crimes.
Senator Flanagan said, “Individuals suffering from the disease of addiction need long-term, holistic treatment options suited to their personal situation. Through this series of hearings, the committee seeks to increase access to long-term treatment solutions that integrate individuals with their families and communities for best outcomes. I thank Senator O’Connor Ives for hosting the committee and look forward to hearing about this issue in the Merrimack Valley.”
District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett submitted written testimony that said, “As District Attorney I see first-hand the havoc that drug addiction wreaks on our communities. Since 2007, my office has administered a drug diversion program to allow non-violent offenders with a drug problem to get treatment in lieu of prosecution. At the same time, we continue to vigorously prosecute those individuals who are engaged in the drug trade and responsible to trafficking this poison into our communities.”
Phil Lahey, a vital drug prevention and treatment advocate, spoke passionately about the issue during his testimony saying, “As a family member of an addict, I want people to realize that addiction is a disease and the best treatment is prevention. There should be no shame in treatment.”
Testimony included discussion on efforts to prevent and treat drug addiction in the community, as well as barriers to treatment that currently exist and care options for individuals struggling with drug addiction. Unlike many other illnesses where people seek treatment to address their conditions, addiction is unique because when people finally do seek treatment, not enough beds are available for them to begin recovery.
Today, families and law enforcement are often limited to bringing someone struggling with addiction to court to be incarcerated as a last resort for finding treatment. This Section 35 commitment is a process for committing individuals with substance abuse issues following a judicial finding that there is a likelihood of serious harm on account of the substance abuse. It is unsustainable for these Section 35 Commitments to continue being utilized as a viable treatment option for those struggling with addiction.
Families need more options along the way. In addition to expanded prevention programs, there need to be more detox facilities and step-down programs following detox in addition to long-term treatment options. Providing these programs will benefit the community by giving people a place to seek help and address the true complexities of addiction, ideally before the police and courts are involved. Most importantly, it will save lives.
The committee will make budget and policy recommendations this spring. If the Legislature continues to pursue this with the focus we’ve seen so far, we can effect real change in our communities on this critical issue.
You can Email Senator Ives at: firstname.lastname@example.org