Healey's drug-abuse plan is lauded


Originally posted on The Lowell Sun's website

By Amelia Pak-Harvey, apak-harvey@lowellsun.com

As North Central Massachusetts and the state grapple with a drug-abuse epidemic, local officials are applauding Attorney General Maura Healey's plan to create a task force to address the issue.

The internal task force will gather members of the attorney general's team to tackle opiate and prescription drug abuse right as Healey takes office on Jan. 21.

Healey told the State House News Service that the issue is a priority for her.

"Listening to the stories of people who came up to me, you can't help but be moved by it," she said. "I think there is a public health crisis, and this has cost families and communities a great deal."

The group will focus on expanding the state's Prescription Monitoring Program, which allows physicians and pharmacists to share and view a patient's prescription information.

Healey's office will work to make the website more user-friendly and allow information to be updated in the system in real time.

The task force will also work to increase the number of lock-in pharmacy programs. These programs, run through insurers, "lock in" those suspected of prescription abuse to only one pharmacy.

Healey's first major initiative is only part of an ongoing battle that North Central Massachusetts has been fighting for months. Since the new year, Worcester County has already had four overdose deaths, according to the Worcester District Attorney's Office. That number does not include any deaths that have occurred in the city of Worcester.

Fitchburg Fire Chief Kevin Roy said firefighters have administered Narcan -- the life-saving drug that counteracts the effects of an overdose -- about 25 to 30 times since May.

Local aid is another big issue, he said, as medical calls are increasing by 200 to 300 every year.

District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said Healey is doing common-sense things, and argued that the PMP might need a legislative fix.

"We have to get aggressive with it because right now we're losing the fight," he said. "It's amazing how many overdose deaths we have every weekend."

State Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, said last week the early announcement of the task force is a good indication of Healey's commitment to the issue.

"I think having Attorney General-elect Healey on board really is just a great partnership to have," she said.

Last year, Gov. Deval Patrick signed off on a law that requires insurance companies to pay for addiction treatment. It also required insurers to cover up to 14 days of inpatient services.

Flanagan said the effort was a landmark piece of legislation.

"This is not a partisan issue, this is not a party issue, this has got to do with families," she said. "And I think we're all looking down the road to try to help families as much as we possibly can."

Follow Amelia on Twitter and Tout @AmeliaPakHarvey.

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