FALMOUTH – A community discussion on emergency response to opioid misuse on Cape Cod and the Islands took place Thursday in Falmouth at a session hosted by Gosnold of Cape Cod.
Part of the message was that the issue is personal to just about everyone – everyone knows someone who has been impacted by the epidemic.
Richard Cucuru, Gosnold CEO, said the focus of the forum was on our Cape and Islands community on how we are doing and what help we need.
“We know this journey is not easy,” he said. Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket County have some of the highest rates per capita for opioid related overdose deaths.
Curcuru said the mission of Gosnold was to work on the full continuum of care designed to meet a person’s unique needs.
He said it was important to encourage detox services and move through customized treatment programs designed to meet an individual’s unique needs.
Governor Charlie Baker said his administration appreciates the creativity and imagination Gosnold brings to the issue.
Baker said many people have become addicted to opioids because they believed in a medical professional who prescribed pain killers and other related drugs.
“An enormous number of the people who end up dealing with this terrible addiction got there because they did what somebody in the medical community told them to do,” Baker said.
There were 72,000 opioid deaths in the U.S. in 2017 according to a study published this week, but Massachusetts was one of the few states that saw a small improvement, a decrease of 1.1 percent during the period.
“We were early into this,” Baker said. “And we have been aggressive about pursuing a collaborative approach to dealing with it.”
Fentanyl has also become a major concern and has skyrocketed to become the biggest overdose drug in the state.
“Fentanyl wasn’t even on the radar really in Massachusetts in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and it’s now responsible for about 75 or 80 percent of all the deaths,” Baker said.
The Baker-Polito Administration’s platform was originally built on prevention, education, treatment and recovery.
“We did a whole bunch of things there that I think have made a difference,” he said.
Massachusetts remains the only state in the country where medical school students can’t graduate without taking and passing a course in opioid therapy and pain management. It is also one of the only states in the country where prescribers can’t get re-licensed without taking and passing a course in opioid therapy and pain management.
“It’s a shock to me that in a country that in 2014 wrote 240 million opioid prescriptions at a time when this terrible epidemic was raging from one end of the U.S. to the other, the vast majority of the people who wrote prescriptions never took a course either in practice or in graduate school in opioid pain management,” Baker said.
The governor criticized the amount of opioid prescriptions written in Massachusetts.
“The overprescribing, the misuse and the casual prescribing of this stuff has a lot to do with how we got into this mess in the first place,” Baker said.
Massachusetts has also dramatically simplified and enhanced the quality of the prescription monitoring program.
“That has made a really big difference,” Baker said.
About 96 percent of all the prescriptions written in Massachusetts are going through the monitoring program.
Baker said the state has had a 70 percent increase on spending on treatment and recovery.
“We need to help people get back up and recover,” he said. “We didn’t get into this overnight and we’re not going to get out of it overnight. We must be persistent in our efforts.”
The governor said there should also be more school-based education.
Baker was also asked several questions, including if recovery coaches could ever be part of the insurance system. He said it was possible at some point, but some work would need to be done to have a structure in place to define recovery coaches.
Other elected officials in attendance were local State Representatives Will Crocker (R-Centerville), Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth), Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich) and Tim Whelan (R-Brewster); State Senator Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth); Sheriff Jim Cummings and Special Sheriff Jeff Perry; and Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe.
Police and fire chiefs from across Cape Cod also participated along with addiction and recovery specialists.