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On Monday, Governor Baker announced the findings of the Working Group that he appointed to provide recommendations on the prevention of opioid abuse in Massachusetts. As the Working Group stated, “Over the past decade, more than 6,600 members of our community have died because of opioids, and behind those deaths are thousands of hospital stays, emergency department visits, and unquantifiable human suffering inflicted upon individuals, families and our communities.”

The report takes care to emphasize that opioid addiction should be treated as a health issue rather than just a problem for law enforcement. “We are not going to arrest or incarcerate our way out of this. This is a disease. This is a public health crisis and we must treat it and address it as such.”

In line with this new framework for viewing opioid addiction, the 18-member Opioid Working Group provided 65 recommendations for both short- and long-term actions to address the opioid addiction crisis.

The Working Group makes several recommendations to prevent opioid abuse in the first place. It suggests increasing education about opioid abuse and addiction in schools and for prescribers; increasing awareness of the dangers of opioid abuse; promoting safe prescribing practices; and destigmatizing aspects of substance abuse disorder.

In addition, the Group envisions a stronger infrastructure for addressing abuse when it does arise. The Working Group recommendations include greater access to data regarding overdoses to allow treatment programs and law enforcement to better target their efforts. Improved access to treatment and overdose antidotes is also crucial to combatting the crisis. To this end, the Group advises expanding the number of treatment beds and bulk purchasing agreements for naloxone to make the antidote more attainable for those who need it. Finally, to encourage opioid abusers to seek the help that they need, the Working Group advocates reducing the stigma surrounding substance use disorders.

The press conference at which Governor Baker unveiled the Working Group recommendations began with a thirty second Public Service Announcement about the dangers of opioid abuse, specifically regarding the death of a young woman named Liz. See the full video here.

At the press conference, Liz’s mother, Janis McGrory, emphasized the importance of prevention and her hopes that these recommendations will be the first step in solving our opioid epidemic: “Addiction is a disease,” she warns, “and don’t be fooled–it can happen to anyone.” Watch this video for more information about it.

Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian commented, “I want to thank Governor Baker, Attorney General Healey and all the members of the Opioid Working Group for their thorough report unveiled today…continuity of health care is a critical link to recovery and reducing crime.” According to the Berkshire Eagle, “Governor Baker’s response to opioid addiction in Massachusetts is an ambitious one appropriate to the nature of the problem.”

Along with the “Stop Opioid in its Tracks” public awareness campaign and other efforts of the Baker Administration, the Working Group’s recommendations are an important first step to place Massachusetts on a road to recovery from the current opioid addiction epidemic.

Please visit www.mass.gov/StopAddiction, an information hub to guide parents on how to best talk to their children, explain treatment options and provide assistance for those seeking help. Those in need of help are encouraged to call 1-800-327-5050, a hotline available Monday-Friday 8am-10pm and on Weekends 9am-5pm.

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