Roundtable Consensus: Resources Needed to Attack Opioid Crisis
METHUEN -- After hearing the dire opioid stories from local first responders, law enforcement, health-care providers and those who have lost loved ones to the crisis, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan could confidently state that the model of care is clearly broken.
That longer-term recovery plans are key in the fight against this insidious disease.
And there’s a workforce shortage, not enough people have access to treatment, the funding model needs to change, and the system is not designed to proactively help people who are struggling.
These were some of Trahan’s takeaways Thursday after a roundtable discussion on the opioid epidemic impacting area communities.
The discussion at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center in Methuen included several Lowell representatives from police, fire, the health center, hospital and elsewhere.
Trahan, the freshman Democrat representing the 3rd Congressional District, recently joined her colleagues as a member of the Freshman Working Group on Addiction, a bipartisan effort to promote policies to end the addiction crisis in the country.
She promised at Thursday’s roundtable that the bipartisan group will act on the opioid epidemic this year.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Trahan told attendees, before hearing about what policies and resources the region needs to combat the crisis.
She said she wanted to understand where the federal government should spend money, listening to those on the front lines about what these investments should look like.
Lowell’s Louise Griffin, who lost her 21-year-old son Zachary Gys to an overdose in 2013, told Trahan about the lack of access to treatment.
Her son died at a sober-living home in Florida. It was the second time Zachary’s family was forced to send him to Florida because they could not get him into a bed in a Massachusetts addiction-treatment facility.
Griffin on Thursday called it “insulting” and “despicable” how this country treats people who suffer from mental-health issues.
There needs to be health-care parity with equal resources, Griffin said, adding that people who are battling addiction should be treated the same as those battling cancer.
Lowell Community Health Center CEO Susan West Levine emphasized the workforce needs. There’s a primary care, nursing and social worker shortage, she said.
They must work together with academic partners to address this workforce deficiency, she said.
Her colleague at the Lowell Community Health Center, Dr. Shaun Farraher, said that recovery coaches have been key -- following up with patients.
He advocated for more funding for these recovery coaches to help people detox and get better.
Lowell Fire Chief Jeff Winward touched on the importance of a good transportation program to help get people to detox.
Many struggle to arrive at a program dozens of miles away, he said.
“It’s pretty frustrating for our COOP (Community Opioid Outreach Program) team members,” Winward said of the city’s group that follows up on those who recently overdosed.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan touched on the positive work in the county, bringing partners together to address the opioid crisis.
The DA’s office has formed task forces, partnered with Trinity EMS, and has distributed Narcan to police and fire departments -- which has helped save people and bring down the fatal overdose numbers, Ryan said.
Middlesex County last year saw a 12-percent decline in fatal overdoses, dropping the total number of fatal overdoses to under 200. Statewide last year, there was a 4-percent decrease in fatal overdoses.
Trahan said that Thursday’s roundtable was “enormously helpful.”
The next step is coming up with recommendations for the Freshman Working Group on Addiction, she said.
“We’re going to go back and think hard about this,” Trahan said.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.