The fight against the opioid addiction epidemic plaguing the Berkshires is a difficult one, but the weapons contributed by the Berkshire District Attorney's office will make a difference.
District Attorney David F. Capeless revealed at a meeting with The Eagle on Monday that his office is providing a $17,000 grant to Berkshire Health systems to pay for 400 doses of the emergency overdose medication Narcan (Eagle, June 21). This drug saves lives, giving addicts a second chance at overcoming their addiction and going on to live long, productive lives.
John Rogers, the vice president and general counsel of BHS, provided The Eagle with sobering numbers showing the extent of the overdose problem in the Berkshires. County emergency departments handled 157 overdoses in 2015, and based on data from the first three months of the year, more than 300 can be expected in 2016. For purposes of comparison, Mr. Rogers said that county ERs typically saw between 40 and 60 overdoses per year between 2011 and 2014.
Narcan, which is carried by first responders, will be distributed through emergency rooms, with instructions for its use provided to addicts, and family members. It has been criticized as an enabling drug, but as Mr. Capeless observed Monday, this is a "manufactured argument" among those who believe addicts shouldn't be helped. The district attorney added that coming back from an overdose with Narcan is a physically difficult process, which is why the drug community is not claiming that access to Narcan will encourage drug use.
The district attorneys, along with others in law enforcement and Beacon Hill, have been aggressively confronting the opioid epidemic. The focus has moved from punishment to treatment and the medical community has worked to cut back on the prescriptions of painkillers that can lead to addiction and heroin use. The Legislature has added funding for treatment beds and mandated drug risk screening programs in schools. Narcan is another weapon in this fight.
However, in an interview with The Boston Globe, Governor Charlie Baker, who has been at the forefront of the opioid fight, said the stigma associated with heroin addiction is still discouraging addicts and their families from coming forward for help. Mr. Capeless observed Monday that the perception that addiction is something that befalls "them" is false when opioid addiction affects every demographic group in Massachusetts. "Raising awareness about how widespread the problem is in the state is important so families will realize they are not alone," he added.
In his Globe interview, the governor said that the "blocking and tackling on this is going to last a long time." The fight against this epidemic will indeed be a long and difficult one, but the Narcan grant to BHS from the DA's office means that lives that would have been lost during the waging of that fight will be saved.