Is This the End of the Heroin Epidemic?

Is This the End of the Heroin Epidemic?

Massachusetts Once Again Leads the Charge in Fighting Heroin

Not too long ago, Lighthouse reported an interesting trend in addiction treatment happening in Massachusetts. Well, we’ve actually reported on a lot of interesting treatment initiatives in MA, but this one was a bit larger than the others.

To catch everybody up – Charlie Baker, Governor of Massachusetts, put together a sixteen-person think-tank called the Opioid Addiction Working Group. The job of this group, made up of “private sector experts,” was to come up with a number of recommendations for how MA can more effectively fight the opioid epidemic.

Well, they did just that. The Opioid Working Group came up with sixty-five strategic recommendations about how to fight abuse, addiction, and overdose in Massachusetts.

Sixty-five recommendations! They’re not messing around! More importantly, many of their ideas can be applied across the country to help stem the tide of painkiller and heroin abuse.

Find information on the Group’s key strategies, as well as some of their specific recommendations, below.

12 Key Strategies to Fight Opioid Abuse

The Opioid Addiction Working Group came up with twelve key strategies to help decrease opioid abuse and addiction. They are:

  • 1) Create New Pathways to Treatment – it seems like many struggling addicts use the ER and other cost/time intensive services to get into treatment. These are called ATS or acute treatment services. If those needing treatment had other pathways (less expensive and more personalized), there would be more resources to help others and healthcare professionals would have more time to help others.


  • 2) Increase Access to Medication-Assisted Therapies – while drugs like buprenorphine and methadone are controversial, they also help save lives. Both prisons and long-term, step-down levels of care (outpatient programs and sober homes) can implement medication-assisted therapies to help reduce relapse, overdose, and general criminal activity.


  • 3) Utilize Data to Identify Hot Spots & Deploy Appropriate Resources – the Working Group suggests that state governments should partner with local police, EMTs, and other emergency service professionals to gather recent and relevant data on substance abuse trends.


  • 4) Acknowledge Addiction as a Chronic Medical Condition – if primary care doctors screened and treated addiction like they screen and treat many other diseases, there would be “timely interventions and referrals to treatment.”


  • 5) Reduce the Stigma of Substance Use Disorders – the stigma and shame of addiction and drug abuse are often barriers to individuals seeking treatment. This stigma is also associated with other risks, including: subpar mental and physical health, leaving treatment before completion, relapse and recidivism, and others.


  • 6) Support Substance Use Prevention Education in Schools – while programs like DARE have only achieved marginal success, fact-based youth education programs can work to stem adolescent drug abuse.

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  • 7) Require All Practitioners to Receive Training about Addiction and Safe Prescribing Practices – if doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are unaware of the dangers of opioids, they’re more likely to prescribe them. Education on both addiction and effective prescribing of opioids will decrease the number of potentially dangerous prescriptions written each year.


  • 8) Improve the Prescription Monitoring Program – while this strategy touches specifically on Massachusetts’ prescription monitoring program, it can be applied nationwide.


  • 9) Require Manufactures and Pharmacies to Dispose of Unused Prescription Medication – if unused, expired, or otherwise non-medically needed opioids are left available, they’ll be diverted and misused. If they’re disposed of, they won’t. It’s that simple.


  • 10) Acknowledge that Punishment is Not the Appropriate Response to a Substance Use Disorder – Massachusetts has already begun this paradigm shift through the Gloucester Initiative. If this line of thinking can be carried nationwide, those suffering from addiction will be treated as sick rather than criminals.


  • 11) Increase Distribution of Naloxone to Prevent Overdose Deaths – Naloxone, widely known by its brand name Narcan, has the potential to save thousands of lives. It’s already made a large impact in states where it’s readily available to addicts, their families, and first responders.


  • 12) Eliminate Insurance Barriers to Treatment – many insurance providers will only approve inpatient treatment if an individual first fails outpatient or partial hospitalization. Removing this “fail first” method, as well as prior authorization, will allow more individuals struggling with addiction to receive the treatment they so desperately need.


Some Vital & Easy to Implement Recommendations

The above twelve-point strategic model is nothing short of revolutionary in addressing and treating substance abuse. Still, how can the ideas above be implemented across MA and the rest of the country?

That’s where specific recommendations become vital. Find a few of the many recommendations from the Opioid Working Group below. A full report from Gov. Baker’s panel of experts can be found here.

  • Increasing Treatment Access by Matching Demand and Capacity – this would allow anyone in a particular state to search and find addiction treatment that’s best suited for their individualized needs. An ideal way of implementing this is through a “real-time, statewide database of available treatment services.” Help could be as easy as running an internet search.


  • Increase the Number of Post-ATS Beds – this means wider access to post-hospital or inpatient treatment support services. Think things like sober living homes, community outpatient meetings, community twelve-step meetings and support groups, etc. These can be implemented through a community stipend and statewide grants.
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  • Promote Integration of Mental Health, Primary Care, and Opioid Treatment – this is basically calling for an “one-stop-shop behavioral and mental health treatment policy.” While that may sound overwhelming, it’s not. Think statewide, uniform behavioral and mental health policies.


  • Support the Implementation of Substance Use Prevention Curricula in Schools – this can be accomplished through using evidence-based practices for educating youth. These are programs that are proven to reduce the abuse of opioids. In addition to using these programs in the community-picked appropriate grade levels, screening for at-risk youth and warning signs of adolescent sports injury opioid abuse can also be implemented.


  • Community Based Pregnancy Outreach – this would require prenatal and postpartum care providers to receive training about identifying, intervening, and treating pregnant or postpartum women abusing drugs. This can be implemented through adding regulations to individual states’ medical licensure boards.

Remember, these are only a very few of the sixty-five total recommendations from the Opioid Addiction Working Group. While they’re massive in scope, and most likely overwhelming to most, they’re also intensely practical.

States across the country can implement any of the recommendations on a fairly modest budget. Lives can be saved. Addiction can be treated. What are we waiting for?

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