Pubdate: Thu, 10 Mar 2016
Source: Pawtucket Times (RI)
Copyright: 2016 The Pawtucket Times
Author: Joseph Fitzgerald


Uxbridge Community Leaders Collaborate on Solutions As Mass. Battles Addiction

UXBRIDGE - If there was an overriding message from Uxbridge's 
community forum on opioid addiction it would be: "We are all in this together."

"None of us has the total answer. A total collaboration across the 
board - that's where the answers will be," said Craig Maxim, program 
director of Family Continuity, a mental health provider and head of 
the Northbridge Coalition.

Maxim was one of several panelists at the forum hosted by the 
Uxbridge Coalition for a Community of Caring. The panel included 
representatives from the medical community, state legislators, the 
district attorney's office, the police and fire departments, schools 
and support groups.

About 50 people attended the session, which was facilitated by 
substance abuse specialist Amy Leone, owner of Community Impact, a 
community mental health counseling practice.

The panelists seated on the stage of the high school auditorium 
included state Rep. Kevin J. Kuros (R-Uxbridge) and Sen. Ryan C. 
Fattman (RWebster); Uxbridge Police Chief Jeffrey A. Lourie and 
Uxbridge Fire Chief Fire Chief William T. Kessler; Uxbridge Schools 
Superintendent Kevin Carney; Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey T. 
Travers; Dr. Safdar Medina, a pediatrician at TriRiver Family Health 
Center in Uxbridge; Allison Burns, founder and CEO of End Mass 
Overdose; and Katie Truitt and Meghan Giacomuzzi from the Missin' 
Matt Foundation. The objective of the forum was to share stories 
about the opioid crisis and to make resources available to those in need.

"Like many of you, I had this preconceived notion that small bedroom 
communities like Uxbridge were immune from drug abuse, but the 
reality is those of us who believed that could not have been more 
wrong," said Kuros.

In 2014  the most recent year the state Department of Public Health 
has released official data  600 deaths in Massachusetts were 
confirmed as opioid-related with an additional 408 expected to be 
linked to the drugs.

The estimated rate of unintentional opioid-related overdose deaths, 
including deaths related to heroin, reached levels in 2014 previously 
unseen in Massachusetts. The estimated rate of 17.4 deaths per 
100,000 residents for 2014 is the highest ever for unintentional 
opioid overdoses and represents a 228 percent increase from the rate 
of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2000.

"Last year (2015), an average of four people a day died of an 
opioid-related overdose," said Kuros. "The epidemic is real in 
communities across the state. We're in the midst of a serious public 
health crisis."

Fattman told the gathering that the House and Senate have agreed on a 
final draft of a bill aimed at combating the state's opiate crisis. 
The bill would impose a seven-day limit on a first prescription of 
any opioid but takes away Gov. Charlie Baker's call for allowing 
doctors to commit patients involuntarily to drug treatment facilities 
for up to 72 hours if they're considered an immediate danger.

The legislation also calls for adding information on opiate use and 
misuse to annual head injury safety programs for high schools and 
launching a Prescription Monitoring Program that requires prescribers 
to check each time they prescribe an opioid. Additional training is 
also included. The House was expected to debate the bill on Wednesday 
and the Senate debate was scheduled for today.

"We will make sure this bill is passed," Fattman said. "We're not 
going to incarcerate our way to a solution to this problem."

As a physician, Medina says there's been a sharp increase in children 
with mental health illness over the past 10 years, including teens 
suffering from depression, anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity 
Disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorder.

"This puts them more at risk for developing a drug or alcohol 
problem," he said. "We need to make sure that we continue work on 
providing mental health services."

Chief Kessler said when he was an EMT 16 years ago an overdose back 
then might be an elderly person who accidentally took an extra blood 
pressure pill.

"About six years ago we started seeing more overdoses from heroin and 
prescription opioids," he said. "Just this past holiday season, we 
had four young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who overdosed."

Firefighters and police officers in Uxbridge are now trained to 
administer naloxone, a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Lourie said he was affected personally by the heroin epidemic when 
the cousin of a close friend died from an overdose.

"Twenty-eight years ago when I started in law enforcement we didn't 
see what we're seeing now," he said.

The chief said the department recently set up a prescription drug 
drop off box at the station and in the first month collected more 
than 78 pounds of prescription drugs.

Lourie said he believes that marijuana is a gateway drug and that 
legalization would be a mistake.

In his remarks, Travers said state troopers assigned to the state's 
district attorneys' offices have jurisdiction over homicides and 
unattended deaths in every city and town, and that an increasing 
number of those are overdoses.

"It's no exaggeration to call this a crisis," he said.

Last year, he said, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. 
Early Jr. announced the formation of a Central Massachusetts Task 
Force to combat the rise of opiate abuse and overdose deaths in the 
county. The task force brings together law enforcement, government 
leaders, health-care professionals and experts in the field of substance abuse.

Burns, a pharmacist by trade and co-founder of End Mass Overdose  a 
non-profit organization that provides comprehensive drug abuse 
services and response strategy to reduce overdose fatalities and 
drug-related costs  said there were 259 million prescriptions written 
for painkillers in 2012.

"That's enough for every American adult to have one bottle of pills," 
said Burns, adding 46 people die every day from an overdose of 
prescription painkillers in the United States.

"What we need to start realizing is that pain is a natural part of 
the healing process and just because a high school athlete injures a 
shoulder it doesn't mean they have to be prescribed opioids to 
control their pain," she said. "And if you do need them and you have 
a bottle of 30 tablets it doesn't mean you have to take them all."

Kuros said he had his wisdom teeth removed four years ago and was 
prescribed 30 tablets of oxycontin.

"I took one and felt lousy the next morning so 29 tablets sat in my 
medicine chest for years before I threw them out," he said. "I urge 
parents to be cognizant of what's in their medicine cabinets."

One of the more poignant moments of the night was the emotional story 
of Matthew A. Bertulli of Hopedale, who died of a heroin overdose at 
the age of 27 on Nov. 3, 2012.

Bertulli's story was told by his mother Katie Truitt and his sister 
Meghan Giacomuzzi, both founders of the Missin' Matt Foundation, a 
non-profit outreach organization for local addicts and families.

Matt was the youngest of five, and lived with his parents, older 
brother and sister. He loved sports, Pop Warner football, music, and 
history. He was a good student and had lots of friends.

"Matt was a pretty typical kid with a pretty typical life. He was 
loved by many, yet his good looks and charming personality hid a very 
dark secret," said his mother.

In the eighth grade, she said, her son started drinking alcohol and 
smoking marijuana. At the age of 19, a work related injury introduced 
him to prescription drugs, namely opiates. He became addicted and 
soon found himself turning to heroin.

His mother said relapse after relapse became his life and, 
eventually, he was discharged from every doctor who treated him for 
his addiction.

Feeling there was no where else to go, Matt again turned to heroin. 
On Oct. 30, 2012, he drove to Rhode Island to meet his drug dealer 
and it was there, in his dealer's apartment, that he overdosed.

By the time Matt was brought to Providence Hospital his brain had 
suffered profound damage due to a lack of oxygen as the overdose had 
stopped his breathing. He died four days later.

"Opiate addiction does not discriminate. It does not afflict only 
'the down and out,' the homeless, the troubled kids or the poor. It 
affects good kids like Matt who come from good families and good 
neighborhoods," Truit said. "Opiate addicts are not bad people trying 
to be good. They are sick people trying to get help."

She said the goal of the Missin' Matt Foundation is to educate people 
about the disease of drug addiction.

"If we don't talk about this, people will continue to die. Talk about 
it. Talk to your kids about it. Silence means death."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom