Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts is putting up a fight against opiate abuse in his state. Opiate abuse is claiming lives of thousands of people per year and Massachusetts is taking the necessary steps under the supervision of the governor to do what they can to lessen the effects. The governor is calling drug addiction a public health emergency. He recently unveiled the first steps his administration is going to take in order to combat the abuse of heroin and prescription drugs, including the release of county-by-county data on opiate addiction.
The backdrop of his speech was the Hope House, a treatment center in Boston. Governor Baker also announced the formation of a 16 member task force assigned to formulate a statewide strategy for dealing with addiction, treatment and recovery. The group will be hosting public meetings and will submit their recommendations by May of 2015.
Governor Baker has made the opiate abuse problem a main priority since he started campaigning for office. Baker pledged that controlling the state's heroin overdose epidemic would be a top priority of his administration. The county-by-county data will help highlight concerning trends in the prescribing trends of painkillers. This includes individuals who receive Schedule II opioid prescriptions from different doctors or fill those prescriptions at different pharmacies. The trends were found to be most prevalent in Barnstable, Plymouth and Bristol counties
"These medications can provide great relief for many patients, including those tormented by debilitating chronic pain or suffering in their last days of life," Baker said. "But we need to make sure prescribing is appropriate." The governor said insurance companies can also play a role in preventing abuse by "establishing best practices and ensuring compliance." Baker is a former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, one of the state's largest insurers. State health officials say there were 978 unintentional opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts in 2013, the last year for which complete statistics were available. That was a 46 percent increase over the previous year.
The task force will be known as the Opioid Addiction Working Group. It will consist of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Marylou Sudders and include law enforcement officials, doctors and experts in addiction prevention, treatment and recovery.
Massachusetts is making great strides in trying to curb the opiate problem in their state, leading the way for other states battling the same issues. The opiate epidemic is not going away anytime soon, and unless state governments take the necessary steps to fight it, it will continue to spiral out-of-control. When opiate overdoses surpass car accidents as the leading cause of accidental deaths, states need to take a long hard look at how they are dealing with the problem.