MAURA HEALEY: Law enforcement can be a prevention tool in drug fight

11.24.2014

Originally posted on The Patriot Ledger's website

By Maura Healey

Editor's note: Following the publication of our Nov. 15 editorial, "A plea to Baker, Healey on opioid epidemic," Attorney General-elect Maura Healey immediately responded with the following commentary.

Last weekend, The Patriot Ledger did a great service for its readers, the people of the South Shore and the entire state by helping draw attention to the devastating and rapid problem of heroin and prescription drug abuse. This is a major public health crisis sweeping across our state – from rich to poor, pre-teens to adults and from cities to rural communities.

Today, nearly one in five young people in Massachusetts has misused a prescription drug. As you note in your open letter to Gov.-elect Charlie Baker and me, these drugs are too easily accessible and have become a pathway to heroin. Statewide heroin fatalities have grown by more than 45 percent since 2006.

Heroin and prescription drug abuse is destroying families and our communities, and is an issue I made a priority throughout my year-long campaign for attorney general. Having heard countless stories from people across all socioeconomic levels and regions about how prescription drugs and heroin have affected their families, I’m more committed than ever to addressing this issue.

We as a state must lead the nation in addressing this surging epidemic.  We need to take immediate steps to address this problem, and as your next attorney general, I will work aggressively on this issue and build on the work already underway by my partners in law enforcement, health care, schools and government.

As your recent open letter requests – and as I pledged to do on the campaign trail – I will hold open dialogue with law enforcement to learn the issues they are coping with every day. I will ensure the state is a strong partner for local communities, and I will assist in deploying needed resources to shut down trafficking.

As Attorney General, I will lead the effort to grow and improve our state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. We need to enhance real-time reporting of who is prescribing prescription drugs, who is dispensing them and who is receiving them.

This has been successful in other states and it will help us cut down on unlawful or negligent prescribing practices by doctors. It will also help us track people who are “doctor shopping” and who are abusing prescription drugs. I also will work to make sure that our Prescription Drug Monitoring Program communicates in real-time with those in other states so that we can cut down on trafficking across borders. We also need to implement a pharmacy lock-in program to prevent people from using fake prescriptions to get drugs.

We must also drastically improve the substance abuse training available to our prescribers and medical practitioners. Outside of addiction treatment programs, most health care providers receive only minimal training on substance abuse.

I will partner with health care providers, community groups and law enforcement to develop improved substance abuse and pain management trainings for doctors and health care professionals. I will also support evidence-based education campaigns on the appropriate use, safe storage and disposal of prescription drugs with a particular focus on supporting parents of at-risk children.

We need strong outreach programs in our schools as well. We must provide young people with access to strong, evidence-based education on the dangers of heroin and prescription drug abuse.

As attorney general, I will also prioritize making quality treatment available to those in need. We as a commonwealth are not doing enough to provide needed treatment for the nearly 8 percent of our population that is substance dependent. As I pledged throughout my campaign, I will direct settlement funds obtained through enforcement actions to increase beds, services and programs for those struggling with addiction.

These are just some of the solutions I have in mind and some of the efforts we must undertake as a state to help fight this public health crisis.

Thank you to The Patriot Ledger, its team and those who contributed for continuing to shed light on an issue that impacts too many on the South  Shore and across our state. You all play a valuable role in raising awareness about the ongoing effects of substance abuse.

Only by working together across law enforcement, government, health care and in our communities, will we bring this crisis to an end.
Maura Healey is attorney general-elect of Massachusetts.


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