Patrick Endorses Plan To Address Opiate Addiction ‘Public Health Emergency’

BOSTON — The Patrick administration is ready to spend $20 million on two dozen initiatives aimed at curbing a surge in addiction to heroin and other opiates in Massachusetts. The details are in a task force report endorsed by Gov. Deval Patrick Tuesday.

“We have a public health emergency,” Patrick said, repeating the reason he created the task force in late March.

To combat that emergency, the state will spend $4 million on new residential treatment programs for adolescents, young adults, families with children, and two that will give priority to Latinos. There’s an enhanced prescription monitoring program. The state plans to spend $3 million on treatment for inmates, including Vivitrol, a drug that blocks the effects of opiates.

Gov. Deval Patrick, in an April 29 file photo (Josh Reynolds/AP)

Gov. Deval Patrick, in an April 29 file photo (Josh Reynolds/AP)

The state will also establish regional walk-in assessment centers, “which I thought was one of the more creative findings,” said Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, who chaired the task force. The centers will be staffed by professionals who can assess anyone who stops by and offer ongoing support groups.

Anyone who decides to check into a detox or rehab program will be able to call a 1-800 number that lists locations statewide with openings, and there are hopes to expand it to throughout New England.

That’s critical, said Dr. Paul Jeffrey, director of pharmacy for the Office of Clinical Affairs at UMass Medical School, and a member of the opiate task force.

“There’s a golden moment,” Jeffrey explained. “Imagine how frustrating it would be if you made a decision that you wanted to get clean and you couldn’t find a way to do that.”

To target young adults with a drug or alcohol problem, the state will add five community-based treatment programs that provide home-based counseling, bringing the total to 12. There is money for a fifth recovery high school — it will be in Worcester — and funding to expand a family support program called Learn to Cope.

Some task force members argue that the most important element would be a statewide education campaign. But Dr. Barbara Herbert, chief of addiction services at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, says it will not be the same old “just say no to drugs” approach.

“We have to bring a different critical lens to the kind of education that we do,” Herbert said. “Fundamentally this disease is not about drugs, it’s not about substance, it’s about the disease itself. It’s about what’s going on inside people that we need to help heal.”

That message of help struck a chord with some of the students at Ostiguy, a recovery high school in Boston where Gov. Patrick released the opiate intervention plan.

“I feel as though people were giving up and trying to just admit defeat, but I’m glad to hear that things are going to be changing, hopefully for the better,” said Bill Buell, who was once addicted to painkillers. Buell says his parents’ insurance plan would not cover an inpatient program. They placed him in state care so he would qualify for MassHealth, which covered the programs Buell needed.

Bill Buell says his parent's  insurance plan would not cover in inpatient recovery program, so they placed him in state care so he would qualify for MassHealth. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Bill Buell says his parents’ insurance plan would not cover an inpatient recovery program, so they placed him in state care so he would qualify for MassHealth. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

“My parents had to give up custody for me to get long-term treatment. It was very unconvenient [sic] for me,” Buell said.

“I have heard story after story of people who have private insurance being told, ‘Get yourself on MassHealth so you can get treated,’ I’m done with that, that has to get fixed,” Patrick said. “The insurers are going to have to come to the table.”

But insurers maintain they were at the table and helped craft the task force recommendations.

“I was really shocked by his comments,” said Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans.

Pellegrini acknowledges that there are individual stories, like Buell’s, that deserve close attention to find out what happened. She said the goal should be making sure that insurers all cover medical services that work.

“We support working with the Division of Insurance and others to really assess best practices and what constitutes medical necessity. To really come up with best practices makes so much sense,” Pellegrini said.

Insurers are also working with the state Senate on an addiction bill that overlaps with much of Gov. Patrick’s approach.

Patrick will try to build a New England-wide plan to curb opiate use when he meets with fellow governors next week. He expects to discuss creating a joint education campaign, sharing open treatment beds, and collaborating to reduce the supply of opiates in the region.

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  • Longlivefree
  • Ralph850

    So, the answer is to throw $20,000,000 down another hack infested rathole? How about we treat the cause? How about we start by letting business grow, create jobs.
    Get these people employed. How about we stop the baby machine welfare link. How about we change our society and start laying some personnel responsibility on parents. How about we teach kids in school how to be responsible, the value of work, stop coddling them and telling them they are special.

    • Argle_Bargle

      Speaking of ‘personnel,’ the last time we had a heroin epidemic in America was when Vietnam was still on. Alfred McCoy’s book ‘The Politics of Heroin’ details the supply system, which also included sending product to North America in the caskets of dead GIs. Now we’re spending hundreds of billions on war in another heroin-producing region and star-spangled idiots can’t or won’t make the connection. Ralph850, you could out-stupid Scott Brown.

      • Ralph850

        Hmmmm, Well the article I read had NOTHING to do with the supply. I discussed the usual Massachusetts politician response to a problem, that being. Throw money at it and generate opportunity for hacks to make good. They will not treat the cause, simply placate the lemmings and use a crisis to secure their position. Argle_Barble you could out-misunderstand Barry freakin Obama. “star-spangled idiots”? you want to explain that?

        • Argle_Bargle

          We’re all very relieved that the supply chain doesn’t fall under “They will not treat the cause.”

          The verdict stands: dumb as a post, plus a 10 yard penalty for poor, punctuation. and speling.

          • Ralph850

            Would you care to point out the spelling and punctuation errors? How about explain why my post is “dumb”.
            Do you care to refute what I said, or just feel safe in your mis-guided lashing out. There are no spelling errors, punctuation is an art, subject to some personal interpretation. You are a raving liberal, kool-aid sipper, that believes whatever lunatic conspiracy theory fits your scenario. The fact is that the so called leaders of our state are more concerned with growing government, forming commissions, creating new bureaus, and generally raping the tax paying sheep than actually facing problems and fixing them. Spelling? Punctuation?

          • Argle_Bargle

            Personnel (sic) responsibility starts with you turning away from Fox News, the Herald, and hate radio. If you’re not smart, strong, or sensible enough to admit that you’re in it with the rest of us, you’re beyond help. (Exhibit A: how is expanding a massive war machine not “growing the government”? And no, shouting ‘BENGHAZI!!!’ at the top of your lungs is not an acceptable answer.)

            “Teabaggers don’t like being called racist. You know what else they don’t like? Black people.” – comedian Bill Maher

          • Ralph850

            Personal responsibility includes reading WBUR and many other sources, fool.

          • Argle_Bargle

            Foolish is equating a deadly, subterranean drug pipeline with the worst of corporate business boilerplate, as you did: “Got too many heroin cadavers on your street? Try shouting about jobs and welfare and too much government, because that will definitely solve the problem.”

            Whatever you do, don’t ever admit that poisonous, illegal drugs (such as heroin and meth) are by definition a private-sector problem, that must be addressed by cooperative, open, community efforts which, in days of yore, used to be called ‘government.’ Hence my cynical comment about the Guv failing to note and pursue the underlying source of the problem.

            This Captain Obvious moment was brought to you by a proud liberal arts education. Because when people aren’t busy counting widgets with their overlord’s boot on their neck, they can actually learn how power operates in the world. You’re welcome.

  • Ronaldus Magnus

    Well, one supposes that anything is better than nothing. However, as I read about this “new” initiative that will cost the taxpayers yet more money, I wonder what, exactly, is “new” about this plan?

    Will the rehab and detox centers continue to administer methadone and suboxone? Although it isn’t stated, it’s a good bet that they will.

    It has been a documented fact in the addiction treatment industry–for years–that using narcotics to treat a narcotics addiction has a failure rate of 94%. And the only reason that 6% of those treated become ‘clean’ is because they say so when asked. Certainly we can trust the word of an addict; why would they lie?

    What’s especially troubling about this recent epidemic is that it didn’t have to happen.

    Massachusetts had a VERY successful, non-narcotic treatment program 3 years ago. 52 clinics statewide used a program developed by Dr. Punyamurtula Kishore of Preventive Medicine Associates. His clinics averaged a 37% success rate; a rate documented by TESTING those treated, so you know the number was good.

    So what happened? AG Martha Coakley had a ‘whistleblower’ tell her that Kishore was cheating Medicaid, so she effectively shut him down. No proof; no trial–no clinics.

    Am I making this up? Google up and see for yourself.

    Meantime we continue with this insanity, paid for by the taxpayer. Thank you, Ms. Coakley, and thank you, Gov. Patrick.