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Opiate Epidemic: Now Lawmakers Push for Prevention

In their war against the opiate epidemic, local lawmakers want to broaden the focus of the state to also include more preventive measures. Jim Cantwell and Liz Malia, state Rep and D-Jamaica Plain, hosted a state house briefing on October 21, and the aim was to come up with a comprehensive strategy to combat behavior health disorders, which include addiction and mental illnesses.

“More than 1,200 lives of Massachusetts residents were lost due to opiate overdoses in 2012 alone, and almost 10,000 since the year 2000. These figures just show the huge toll that opiate epidemic is having on families and local communities.” Jim Cantwell, the state Rep further added, “Prevention certainly works, and it can help us lessen the heartbreak.”

Over 60 legislators have promised to back the proposed law that wants to put in place a special commission on the behavioral promotion and prevention. The members of the commission, according to Cantwell, would be drawn from public safety, health policy, mental health, substance abuse, public health and upstream prevention.

According to Ben Thomas, a legislative aide to Cantwell’s, upstream prevention simply means taking action before an acute condition presents itself. He added that the whole idea behind upstream prevention is reducing risk factors that enhance the chances of a person developing a behavioral health problem while at the same time boosting factors that protect one from developing the disorder.

Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, said that he was very pleased to join the bill’s co-sponsors list. Josh said that although treatment plays a key role to resolve the opiate epidemic in the state, the ultimate solution was prevention.

Cutler said, “We are not going to solve this problem permanently without treating the root cause.”

In reaction to the opiate crisis, the Commonwealth has made certain important changes, which include increasing monitoring on prescription drugs to reduce instances of addicts abusing their access to pills. Another change is the creation of drop-off boxes for disposing unused medications, according to Cantwell.

“Through focusing on upstream prevention, we will be able to help our children and grandchildren avoid taking the path of addiction,” he added.

Referring to the Scituate (Massachusetts) FACTS Coalition, Cantwell said that there are lots of success stories on the local level. Scituate FACTS (FACTS stands for Families, Adolescents and Communities Together against Substances) focuses on education, which includes a social Norming Campaign aimed at showing students the differences on how they perceive alcohol and drug use and the reality in their peers. Co-founder of the Group, Annmarie Galvin, also agreed that prevention is very important in the fight against drug use and addiction.

“98% of the funds go to the consequences of the disease. This includes criminal justice costs and treatment bed costs. Only the remaining 2% gets to be spent on prevention,” she said. “It’s important that we do something to change the paradigm.”

Cantwell also talked about school districts which have model health curriculum that begins teaching students to make the right decisions regarding their body as early as when they are in second grade. An example of such program is Healthy Students/Safe Schools. This is a federal initiative that invests in good behavior games, youth mentoring and prevention methods in communities to not only promote mental health in students but also put in place safe and secure schools.

Cantwell further added that after the formation of the special commissions, up to 20 different drug coalitions having successful local models will present evidence-based solutions. After that, the commission would propose laws to start implementing the ideas in all the communities across the state, Cantwell added. Cantwell hopes that the commission will be created in the start of 2016 and also wants to include methods the group can finance demonstrated budgets in the state budget commissions.

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