Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jan 2017
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Note: Rarely prints LTEs from outside circulation area - requires 'Letter
to the Editor' in subject
Author: Steven H. Foskett Jr.


WORCESTER - Last year was another rough year in the fight against opioid
addiction, and Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. had some
numbers to prove it at a forum Monday night at Worcester Technical High

The district attorney said there were 148 overdose deaths in Worcester
County last year, and he cautioned that as toxicology test results come
back, that number could still rise. He said for four years that number has
been in the triple digits, and said it has impacted the cities and the
suburbs. He said that in nearly three quarters of those overdose deaths,
the powerful drug fentanyl played a role.

The numbers he rattled off were grim, but the forum, sponsored by his
office, brought together various social service, government and healthcare
agencies, and also included success stories, both at personal and
programmatic levels. Various groups were represented, from Aids Project
Worcester to the Rockdale Recovery High School.

Mr. Early said it has become clear that addressing the opioid crisis has
to be a battle fought with compassion. Everyone suffering from opioid
addiction is someone's loved one, he said. He said the use of the
anti-overdose drug Narcan has increased, and said he supports efforts to
prevent doctors from over-prescribing painkillers that often serve as a
starting point for stories of addiction.

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. and Police Chief Steven Sargent talked
about how the city's approach to addiction has evolved.

Mr. Augustus said there were 1,148 overdoses in the city last year; 53
were fatal. That means the city's work is not done, he said. But he
pointed to several initiatives that have had some success, including
needle exchange, prescription drug drop-off, and Narcan training for city
employees. He said the city is willing to try new things to get a handle
on the problem.

Chief Sargent said the biggest change in his department's approach has
been in philosophy. He said officers are now trained to see the problem as
a disease, and not a crime. To that end, officers on the Crisis
Intervention Team are actively working with people who seek recovery to
try to connect them with services. Sometimes it's just a matter of having
an officer physically stay with a person while efforts are made to get
someone into treatment.

And getting that treatment can be difficult. Kimberly Rockwood, who said
she is in recovery but helps others seeking treatment, said part of the
problem is that there simply are not enough beds. Other advocates at the
forum also called on more efforts to make "treatment-on-demand" more
widely available.

State Rep. James O'Day, D-West Boylston, noted that among the most recent
"9C" state budget cuts was some money for substance abuse. But he said
he's also willing to have a broader discussion about funding for
treatment. He said the issue might be big enough to bring up the idea of a
tax to fund treatment efforts.

Susan Hillis, treatment director at AdCare Hospital, said she would like
to see more availability of long-term beds - that could accommodate
treatment for up to six months. And she said criticism of
medication-assisted therapies is misplaced. She said you never see someone
break a leg and have the doctor just tell that person to get up and walk.
She said medication-assisted therapies for addiction are an adjunct to

Joanne Peterson, founder of Learn to Cope, talked about the impact
addiction has on families, and Rebecca Zwicker, a recovery coach with the
Salvation Army, told her personal story of addiction and recovery to
illustrate first-hand what opioid abuse can do to a family.

She said she was first prescribed prescription painkillers after a car
crash on Interstate 290. At that time, she had a house, and two young
children. Her addiction progressed quickly, and she said she became a
"pill chaser" who spent time in and out of detox facilities.

She said her high-school age daughter wrote an essay last year detailing
what it was like living with a mother struggling with addiction. She said
her daughter recalled that as an eight-year-old, she knew whether he
mother was struggling by the attention to detail given to her daily peanut
butter and jelly sandwiches for school. On good days, the crust would be
carefully cut off. On bad days, the sandwich was slapped together and
thrown in the lunch bag, her daughter wrote.

With the help of Judge Michael G. Allard-Madaus, who runs the city's drug
court - one of two in the county. Ms. Zwicker said she was able to enter
into recovery. She said she felt like the judge really cared about what
happened to her, which she said played an important role in her recovery.

"I never thought he would care," she said. "I've been clean ever since."
- ---
MAP posted-by: