Abuse of OxyContin and heroin in Massachusetts has reached epidemic levels and must be attacked with the same fervor now being directed toward controlling the H1N1 flu virus, a special state commission reported today.
(Globe File Photo)
“The Commonwealth is in the midst of a serious and dangerous epidemic,’’ the panel, known formally as the Massachusetts OxyContin and Heroin Commission, said in a 71-page report released at the State House.
The report drew a parallel between the number of US troops from Massachusetts who have lost their lives in two wars – and the number of people who died from overdosing on one or both of the drugs between 2002 and 2007.
During those five years, 78 servicemembers from the state lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan while 3,265 died from drug-related causes, the panel said.
“The Commonwealth is losing men and women on its streets at a rate of 42 to 1 compared to what the state is losing in two wars overseas,’’ the panel said in its executive summary. “Addiction is a medical disorder, and we have a public health epidemic on our hands that is larger than the flu pandemic.’’
The panel made 20 recommendations, including:
-- Strengthen the existing prescription monitoring program so that public health officials learn more quickly about patients collecting multiple prescriptions for the same drug and doctors who appear to be writing more prescriptions than reasonably necessary for their caseload.
-- Limit criminal sanctions against substance abusers who seek medical help for using illegal drugs and create a good Samaritan law to shield anyone helping steer an addict towards treatment.
-- Increase support for the three “recovery high schools’’ where teen substance abusers recover in an supportive educational, age-appropriate environment. The schools are located in Boston, Beverly and Springfield. Invest in substance abuser diversion programs that steer the addicted away from costly prisons into less expensive recovery programs.
“If the H1N1 virus killed 3,000 people in a five year period in Massachusetts, the crisis would be center stage and the entire Commonwealth would be working to find a solution to protect the public,’’ the panel said. “Because of the stigma surrounding substance abuse, this epidemic is left in the shadows and little light has been put upon reforming the policies involving substance abuse in the Commonwealth.’’
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