The growing opiate abuse problem in Berkshire County and Massachusetts is a complex one that must be addressed from a variety of angles, but making real progress will require profitable insurance and drug companies to accept their responsibility. Berkshire legislators William "Smitty" Pignatelli and Benjamin Downing have proposals that will do this, and their colleagues, all of whose districts assuredly face the same problem to some degree, should get on board.
Under 2008 legislation, insurers are supposed to treat mental health and substance abuse as they do all other illnesses, but as Representative Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, pointed out in Sunday's Eagle, this is not the case. While abusers were once able to check into a Pittsfield detox for a month, the lawmaker noted, insurance now limits treatment for five to seven days, which is not nearly time enough for a successful outcome. A bill he is co-sponsoring states that insurers should face penalties if they do not approve adequate money and time for a person to be treated.
A bill co-sponsored by Representative Pignatellli and state Senator Benjamin Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat, that would essentially impose restrictions on a drug used to treat opiate addiction that is itself subject to abuse earned the legislators visits from the company that markets the drug. Obviously, the profit margins of drug companies aren't the concern of lawmakers or the people they represent. Abuse from the drugs used to treat addiction are a major reason why methadone clinics are controversial.
Reducing opiate addiction also requires tough criminal penalties, enhanced prescription monitoring programs and other measures that Mr. Pignatelli is addressing with legislation offered this session. Opiate addiction not only wrecks lives and families it contributes mightily to crime, as according to Pittsfield police, most break-ins and robberies are drug-related. This undermines neighborhoods and municipalities that are trying to improve economically. We all have an interest in addressing this serious problem, and that includes the profit-driven companies that aren't doing their share.