Pubdate: Mon, 09 May 2016
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Sarah Coughlin


Social workers across Massachusetts are on the front lines of the 
opioid epidemic. We work in treatment programs, community-based 
coalitions, sheriffs' departments, jails, drug courts, and hospitals. 
Every day we live with the newly released data on opioid and heroin 
deaths ( "Heroin, prescription drugs weigh heavily on Mass," Page A1, 
May 2) as our clients die.

These drastic numbers, unique across the country, cry out for new 
solutions. Our historic attempts to prevent and reduce substance use 
through harsh penal sanctions have failed.

Report after report shows that providing effective treatment saves 
millions of dollars in police, court, legal, and incarceration costs. 
Politicians on both sides of the aisle can embrace humane approaches 
that are cost effective.

A monumental shift is needed, completely away from the criminal 
justice system. In Portugal, all illicit drugs have been 
decriminalized resulting in a 72 percent reduction in drug overdoses 
and a 94 percent reduction in HIV spread. In countries where 
decriminalization is a nonstarter, drug use, HIV, incarceration and 
other collateral results are on the rise.

Social workers will continue to advocate for legislation and policies 
that make a stronger dent in the addiction crisis in Massachusetts. 
We hope our representatives and senators will take brave, creative steps.

Sarah Coughlin

National Association of Social Workers, MA Chapter

Chair, Mental Health and Addiction Committee

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