Christine Macbeth: Ending stigma critical to opioid law success


PITTSFIELD >> The statewide scourge of opioid addiction continues to devastate families, destabilize communities and extinguish futures.

Through his ground-breaking opioid legislation, Gov. Charlie Baker has made it clear that tackling this unprecedented public health crisis is a priority for his administration. The bill's passage is a strong first step in creating more accessible and effective pathways to addiction treatment and recovery in Massachusetts.

Critical component

The legislation strikes at the many roots of the issue, including preventing addiction through education; tracking opioid usage through the Prescription Monitoring Program; making the overdose-reversing drug naloxone more affordable; adding treatment beds and services; and, broadening access to treatment services. The governor also calls for addiction screening for middle and high school students, working with schools, communities and families to tackle the issue of substance abuse before it becomes a problem.

These are honest and necessary measures. However, a public health emergency of this magnitude will also require a sustained investment in community-based treatment centers and recovery support as well as ongoing education around the many different paths to recovery available.

This means not only better access to treatment beds and services but also a commitment to ongoing recovery and long-term wellness, whether it's traditional outpatient services, medication-based treatment or other alternatives. Recovery is not one-size-fits-all.

As behavioral health providers, we understand that a continuum of care doesn't mean treatment ends once a person is stabilized. No one expects someone with a chronic disease like diabetes to stay in the hospital for 30 days and come out cured. Yet historically, that's how we've treated people with the chronic disease of addiction.

Honest dialogue

In cases of dual diagnosis, where a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder co-occur, it is especially important that the person enroll in a treatment program that addresses both issues at the same time. Open lines of communication throughout the recovery process among all care providers will be necessary in order to maximize effectiveness of coordinated interventions.

We hope the governor's bill will inspire even more honest conversations around these issues, which could go a long way to dispel the stigma of addiction that often keeps people from getting the help they so desperately need.

Christine Macbeth is CEO of the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.


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