Governor Deval Patrick's declaration of a public health emergency last week to fight heroin addiction officially launched the state's effort to combat a growing scourge from Cape Cod to the Berkshires. It is a battle the state will likely have to be in for the long haul.
The governor pledged $20 million for increased treatment and recovery services. Prison time is no solution unless that time includes programs to enable addicts to get off and stay off opiates. The directive that the Department of Public Health make Narcan, a drug that halts overdoses almost immediately, available immediately to all first responders will save lives and give addicts a chance to recover that they would not have had otherwise.
Wisely, Governor Patrick's directive prohibits the sale of Zohydro, a powerful narcotic painkiller that can be lethal if misused. The Food and Drug Administration approved its use last year in what can only be seen as an acknowledgment of the power of the pharmaceutical industry. Physicians and pharmacists will also be required to monitor all prescribed painkillers.
The Sunday Boston Globe, in a harrowing story on a baby prosecutors believe died as a result of a heroin-tainted milk bottle given her by her parents, reported that in 2012, 1,300 babies were born addicted to heroin or prescription drugs like methadone and Oxycontin. Anecdotal evidence suggests the number rose in 2013. That medical practitioners are confronted with drug dependent babies tells the state all it needs to know about the extent of the opiate problem and the challenges ahead in dealing with it.