Our Opinion: State attacks addiction while others play politics
As if it weren't already apparent that partisan political gamesmanship and the health care issue make a poor mix, consider Massachusetts' current standing in the battle against opioid addiction. According to a recently released Associated Press analysis of federal grant spending, the Bay State has such a robust addiction treatment network in place that it could afford to spend 75 percent of its annual federal drug-fighting grant on recovery support services last year, more than any other state. Such support includes subsidies for cellphones, stipends for attending job training, transportation fares and even work clothes — expenditures that are essential to assist recovering patients in rebuilding their lives, sustain the benefits of treatment and become contributing members of society.
Such spending is possible because Massachusetts was one of the earliest states to embrace the Affordable Care Act and take advantage of its generous subsidies enabling individual states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income residents. Thirty-three states now have expanded their Medicaid programs, and Medicaid now covers four out of 10 adults nationally with opioid addiction. Those states with Republican leadership that rejected Medicaid expansion under the ACA (also known as "Obamacare") for political reasons now find themselves behind the eight ball, having to expend precious federal drug-fighting money on setting up treatment programs that otherwise would have been well-established by now.
In another sign of the severity of America's opioid addiction problem, Congress can point to the recent extension of drug-fighting grants to states as one of its few successful bipartisan efforts, and even President Trump has agreed to sign the legislation. Presumably, no politician wants to campaign empty-handed before constituents who demand help for their ravaged communities rather than reports of more Beltway political skirmishing.
All this is not to say that more could not be done in the commonwealth's ongoing effort to rid itself of the opioid scourge. Berkshire County still counts among the most afflicted regions of the state when it comes to addiction, and overdose deaths have doubled since 2012, Jennifer Kimball of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission told The Eagle. There is some good news on this front, however: On Sept. 21. the BRPC won a $200,000 federal grant to take stock of all drug-fighting efforts in the county to find out what is working and what isn't. The knowledge gleaned, according to Ms. Kimball, will provide an advantage to the Berkshires when competing for future funding.
The prescribing of opioids dropped by 30 percent between October 2017 and June, and Massachusetts was one of only eight states where opioid overdose deaths have declined in the same time period, according to state statistics. This is good news in a battle that until now has appeared to be a losing one, and state and local appointed and elected officials as well as those agencies on the front lines of this fight can be proud. As more irresponsible election year rhetoric emanates from the White House about deficit-busting tax cuts, the fight against opioids offers a reminder that we pay taxes to generate resources that provide for those in our community who need our help.
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