To the Editor:
Turning the tide of opioid addiction necessitates a collaborative and proactive approach. While I applaud the Commonwealth’s new opioid law, which was proclaimed to be the “most comprehensive measure in the country,” I was disappointed the law didn’t address the lack of accessible and quality treatment on demand.
Unfortunately, no system or police officer can force an addict to enter treatment. Interventions are helpful, but outcomes are improved if they make the choice in their own time, when they’re ready to commit. And when they do, there should not be the obstacle of a long term waitlist. Ideally, this would include detox followed by inpatient traditional treatment, inclusive of talk therapy (remember that?). Over the years, prior to the current epidemic of four deaths per week in the Commonwealth, the consistent challenge was not enough treatment beds and/or the client didn’t have insurance or adequate insurance, etc. If I’m not mistaken, evidence-based data proves that detox alone is not sufficient and that most will use drugs shortly thereafter unless they enter a quality in-patient program. There are some great out-patient programs, but obviously they aren’t enough.
This brings me to the other elephant in the room that some news articles fail to address and that is the controversial topic of treatment versus jail sentences, which most likely would include recidivism. I commend the Gloucester Police Department for realizing addiction is a disease and that repeated imprisonment is not the answer to a complex and costly problem. They have opted for treatment as an option instead of a jail sentence. Of course, it isn’t as simple as this, but they are trying. This was a brave and bold action/safety plan which I’m confident will have positive outcomes for all. Moreover, I sincerely hope the Cape and the Islands consider this option because we are losing the battle — in addition to losing lives. Let’s not forget that it costs less to educate and provide treatment than it does to incarcerate.
While this new law will help long term, it’s imperative that action is taken now to prevent and intervene to save lives. This disease is spreading and the short-term action plan should include accessible, quality, on-demand treatment upon request. Meanwhile, prevention and education/awareness campaigns should also be a priority as to inform and eradicate stigma. This effort must be collaborative and include all providers: public safety organizations; school systems, etc. These proven strategies are effective in urban, rural and suburban settings. While we face unique challenges on our small island, we also have advantages because we are a small community. If everyone works collaboratively, there is no doubt we can stem the tide of this deadly disease. However, if revolving prison doors continue and providers fail to address this epidemic with data-driven tactics, we will continue to see a tide of bodies and/or needles washing up on our shores. We have a good start, but we can do better if we work together proactively.