Attorney General Healey to families of addicts: 'This is my top priority'


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Attorney General Maura Healey meets with family members of addicts at a Learn to Cope meeting in Worcester. (Lindsay Corcoran,
By Lindsay Corcoran

WORCESTER - In a meeting with family members of addicts, Attorney General Maura Healey said the opiate overdoses crisis is her top priority upon entering office.

Healey, newly elected to the office, met with family members from Learn to Cope, a peer-led support group network for family members of those struggling with addiction, alongside Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr. on Wednesday afternoon.

While Healey continued to outline her plans to tackle the issue, including improving prescription drug monitoring, expanding education and outreach programs, ensuring the availability of the opioid overdose-reversing drug Narcan, and working with medical professionals on safe prescription practices, she also asked families where her focus should be.

Spectrum Health Systems President and CEO Charles Faris said the main issue is that addiction is not treated as a disease.

"There is a recognition still harbored out there that this isn't a disease," Faris said. "There's still a value judgment when it comes to treating it. If you were treating diabetes, it wouldn't be two shots and you're done."

Family members agreed with Faris' assessment and said they often had to fight to get their loved ones the treatment they need.

"The area I find most frustrating and ineffective is insurance companies," said Daiva Izbickas, a Natick mother whose son is an addict who is currently clean.

Along with the insurance struggles, parents also said the availability of beds in treatment facilities was the next issue they'd run into.

"We can't be their treatment center," said Learn to Cope Executive Director Joanne Peterson. Peterson noted the recent closing of facilities in Boston posed a specific problem.

Other parents noted that even a couple of days or weeks outside of a treatment facility could mean the difference between life and death for their loved ones.

The families meeting with Healey also advocated for more education for doctors and pharmacists when prescribing and giving out opioids. Nearly every one of the 20 families in the room raised their hands when asked if their loved one became addicted through using prescription drugs.

"They're the most elusive and most dangerous drug pushers on the street," said Izbickas of doctors and anesthesiologists. She suggested educating doctors to ask patients if they're recovering addicts or if they have addicts in the home and advising them about the addictive nature of the opioids.

Peterson advised trying to educate the parents of young people, particularly of student athletes who are likely to get hurt and be prescribed opioids in the hospital.

After the meeting, Healey acknowledged that state budget challenges are a concern when funding some of the programs to help deal with this issue.

"That's why I talked about priorities," Healey said. "The last thing we want to do is lose access to these services and treatments now. I'm going to be a strong advocate for funding these services."

She said outreach and education would be two of her top priorities moving forward.


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