Opiate addiction is growing steadily across the nation, but Governor Charlie Baker is concerned about how hard the opiate epidemic is hitting disabled and homeless veterans. He has vowed that his administration focused on ways to lessen the growth of this crisis. Over one thousand deaths have been linked to opiate abuse in Massachusetts in the last year, and the state's veterans have been hit the hardest. In the last week, a center for homeless veterans reported that three people had died there from opiate overdoses in the last few weeks. The residents are blaming a well-stocked drug market that is just outside the center, which makes protecting veterans from drug addiction difficult.
This issue has been boiling up for years as it affected residents across the state and nation. The governor states that he did not plan to make opiate addiction a priority during his 2014 run, but the epidemic clearly became a priority during that time. It became very clear to him that this issue was prevalent everywhere, as residents shared their painful stories with him. Baker has hopes to implement measures that will help to stem this growing tide.
Baker plans to explore purchasing bulk drug testing kits to give to different organizations at a discounted price. One of the recipients would be the Northeast Veteran Center, an organization that screens their residents frequently. While this measure would require approval from the legislature, the founder of the center, Leslie Lightfoot, is in support for this new program as it would save the center thousands of dollars while allowing for a broader range of drug testing.
In addition, the governor was recently supported by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association for a proposed measure that would limit how many opioids a physician was able to prescribe in a patient’s first prescription. This will help to put a dent in the growing numbers of opiate addicts, as the abuse of painkillers is often cited as a gateway drug to overall addiction to prescription opiates and the eventual use of heroin.
The bill will also make it so that doctors are able to commit patients to treatment for substance abuse if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. Lightfoot has emphasized the need for substance abuse treatment for addicted veterans, citing the need for more secure treatment programs that are smaller and more focused on the individual. Many veterans are currently not receiving treatment for their drug addictions, she states, and when they do they are not getting long term attention. They are ending up back on the streets or dead from overdoses in large numbers.
Coleman Nee, the secretary of services for veterans' services, states that the families of addicted veterans must be more involved in the treatment and support services that are offered to a recovering addict. This support can change the path of a veteran that is addicted to drugs. At the Northeast center, veterans are required to be clean and sober for a period of one year before they are able to live with their families in one of their twenty homes.
The center offers services to wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and is the first housing facility in the country that provides services for therapy, occupational and physical treatment.