Pubdate: Sat, 18 Jun 2016
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Vivian Wang


US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy visited what some locals call "the 
worst intersection in Boston" on Friday as part of his effort to talk 
to prescribers nationwide about how they can address the country's 
rising opioid crisis.

The Boston stop on Murthy's "Turn the Tide Rx" tour brought him to 
the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program on Albany Street, at 
the heart of "Methadone Mile," so nicknamed for the cluster of 
homeless shelters and drug addiction programs there that draw people 
battling substance abuse from across the city. Accompanied by the 
program's top officials and state Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, 
Murthy toured the facility and met with patients who shared their 
stories of stigmatization and recovery.

Murthy is visiting the states hardest hit by the prescription opioid 
epidemic. In Massachusetts, the number of opioid-related deaths has 
nearly tripled in the last decade. After the tour, Murthy 
participated in a panel discussion at Harvard Medical School, where 
he told roughly 200 people including prescribers in the audience how 
they could contribute to his campaign against opioid abuse.

During his visit to Albany Street, Murthy described how the federal 
government can partner with state and local organizations to raise 
awareness of addiction as a medical issue, just like diabetes or heart disease.

"We have to change how our country thinks about addiction," he said. 
"I hear from people who don't want medication-assisted treatment 
facilities in their neighborhoods, because they worry it'll bring bad 
people to their neighborhoods. But they wouldn't mind having a new 
cancer treatment center or heart disease treatment center in their 

Indeed, the first stop on Murthy's tour was the program's Supportive 
Place for Observation and Treatment clinic, which in the seven weeks 
since its opening has drawn critics who say its model of providing a 
private, medically monitored room for people to ride out their high 
enables drug abuse and reinforces the area's unsavory reputation.

Murthy also visited the program's outpatient and inpatient 
facilities. Between stops, he shook hands with patients and posed for 
photographs. One patient admired Murthy's US Public Health Service 
uniform, which Murthy joked that he wears all the time, even to sleep.

The opioid crisis has hit Boston's homeless population especially 
hard: A study by the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program in 
2013 found that drug overdose had replaced HIV as the primary killer 
of the city's homeless.

As a result, the program has been forced to reevaluate its model of 
care, folding substance abuse treatment into its more established 
focus on illnesses like cancer and diabetes, said program president 
James O'Connell.

Murthy said the program's model of integrated care - treating mental 
health, substance abuse, and primary care issues all together - is an 
example of how Massachusetts has led the way in fighting the opioid crisis.

"That's what we need more of across the country," he said.

Clinicians weren't the only ones emphasizing the need to address 
mental health alongside substance abuse. Julio Velazco, 40, a patient 
at the clinic who has been clean for a year and a half, said that 
when he met with Murthy, he emphasized that detox facilities should 
always be accompanied by psychiatric units.

But Velazco, who started abusing alcohol and heroin after his 
3-month-old daughter and her mother died in a car accident, said he 
hopes the surgeon general's primary takeaway from his visit to Boston 
is empathy for a population too often stereotyped.

"I just want him to know that drug addicts, we're really not bad 
people," he said. "We're very good, kind, caring people - we just 
make really stupid decisions."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom