Baker administration to ramp up addiction solutions

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BOSTON – Despite efforts to curb opioid addiction and drug-related fatalities, Massachusetts officials say that the state’s overdose death rate held steady during the first three months of 2016.

In 2014, Massachusetts ranked 13th among states for deaths by drug poisoning. And the state Public Health Department estimates more than 1,500 died from overdoses last year, almost triple the fatalities in 2010.

In a joint interview with the Boston Globe published Wednesday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and his Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders discussed the challenges facing state policymakers and health care workers and described several initiatives that will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months.  

Such initiatives include an updated prescription monitoring system for doctors and dentists to screen for patients who might “doctor-shopping” for drugs, which will be implemented in this fall; a mandatory verbal screening in Massachusetts public schools for potential student users; and expansion of Medicaid, so people struggling with addiction can receive up to 30, instead of 15, days of residential treatment.

Under a proposal pending in Congress, the Bay State could receive up to $20 million in federal aid for opioid-fighting efforts. But Baker and Sudders also discussed the need for a cultural shift, including destigmatizing addiction and treating it like a medical disease.

“One of the big challenges in this is just getting people to open up about their own experience, because for most people it’s not something they want to talk about,” Baker said. “It’s not like your kid had cancer. It’s not like your kid has diabetes. It’s different.”

And the two emphasized that the administration is in the fight for the long haul, aiming for “fewer opioids prescribed in Massachusetts, fewer overdoses, fewer deaths, and deeper understanding among doctors and patients about the addictive dangers of the drugs,” according to the report.

“We’re all in,” Sudders said.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis