Cracking down on the few physicians and health care providers fueling the state's opioid addiction crisis is necessary. Patients, however, have responsibilities as well.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has formed a task force with the FBI, US Drug Enforcement Agency, the US Department of Health and Human Services and other state agencies to share information and pursue investigations of doctors and others in the health field who illegally prescribe opioids or do so recklessly. Prescriptions for painkillers skyrocketed in recent years, and those who become addicted often turn to far less expensive heroin, fueling that epidemic in the Berkshires and across the state. The tally of opioid-related deaths in 2015 is expected to exceed the roughly 1,200 of 2014.
Painkillers become an issue not out of irresponsibility but when physicians responded to criticism that they were not doing well enough in the area of pain management. These good intentions went awry, but patients have a responsibility to be honest with physicians and their assistants about the level of pain they are experiencing. They also have to be cognizant of the reality that many painkillers are highly addictive and they have to be responsible about their usage.
The Massachusetts Medical Association is serious about confronting this issue. On Beacon Hill, the House, Senate and Governor Baker are all working on bills addressing opioid addiction that we hope will result in a compromise measure that becomes law sooner rather than later.
For the addiction epidemic to be slowed and fended, however, patients must be responsible about painkillers and those who become addicted to them or to heroin must seek the help this is increasingly available as the state moves away from punishment to an emphasis upon treatment.