Our Opinion: Collective will is key to opioid epidemic fight

The fight against the Berkshire opioid addiction crisis is a three-pronged one — local, state and federal. The federal effort has been lackluster, but North Adams, Boston and the Berkshires are willing to do what it takes.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was in North Adams on Monday and met representatives of various groups and agencies involved in preventing and treating opioid addiction and its consequences (Eagle, September 19). An excerpt of their conversation is indicative of the scope of the problem: When Ms. Healey asked where the concerned parties could use more state resources and support, their answer was, "Everywhere."

Massachusetts has lost 5,000 people to opioid addiction in the last three years, and Berkshire County's contribution to that stark figure is roughly 30 overdose deaths per year. These, of course, are only dry numbers that overlook the toll of individual human suffering, the damage to families, the lost personal and general economic productivity, the drain on local resources, and any number of additional ancillary effects of the epidemic.

The convocation of stakeholders in North Adams, and Ms. Healey's presence there, indicate that there is no shortage of will in battling the opioid scourge; what is missing, as always, are resources. Money from the state, for example, would fund more peer-run recovery groups and accessible residential treatment centers. Money from the federal government that would enable addicts to seek medical care is currently in jeopardy as a Republican Congress seeks once more to gut Medicaid funding. The state Legislature has passed laws restricting medical providers in prescribing opioids and mandating them to check for abusers through a state database, but that only addresses one source of the drugs' availability.

The addiction crisis, as those at the gathering knew and everyone should know, is not a manifestation of mass moral failing. In many cases, it is the final recourse of desperation and despair — responsible people who have been been beaten down by the inequalities and lack of opportunities in our current economic system. Solving that problem requires its own complex strategy, but there is no denying its contribution to the witches' brew of addiction's underlying causes.

As an example of the opioid epidemic's impact on families, so many grandparents have been forced to take over the care of their grandchildren due to their addicted children's inability to adequately parent them that a state Commission on the Status of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren was formed to address the issue through workshops (Eagle, September 19). In North Adams, they are held at The Family Place, 61 Main St., Suite 208, on the first and third Tuesday of the month, from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

Ultimately, while the work of agencies, nonprofit organizations, health care providers and all other involved parties is to be commended and encouraged, and Beacon Hill's efforts appreciated, it is the collective will of the populace that will prioritize this issue politically and make the crucial funds available to arm those fighting at the front lines. To that end, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition will host its annual Voices for Recovery Rally, Walk and Vigil this Saturday from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at Colegrove Park in North Adams. Consciousness raising is a prerequisite to concrete action, but it is only a first step to recovery that involves many.


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