Baker responds to Plymouth’s drug crisis
Confronted with new evidence of the toll of opioid abuse, Governor Charlie Baker will meet with Plymouth officials Tuesday to discuss the town’s escalating crisis.
The governor initially had planned a routine visit to announce a public works grant, but Monday he suddenly asked to confer with Plymouth leaders about a widening problem that has resulted in 144 overdoses and 10 fatalities this year.
Baker’s request was prompted by a Globe report that Plymouth is on track to smash last year’s records of 313 overdoses and 15 deaths. The town has launched a broad-based effort — involving officials from Town Hall, the schools, public safety, the local hospital, court workers, and others — to fight back.
The governor is expected to discuss the crisis with the town manager, Board of Selectmen chairman, and police and fire chiefs in a private afternoon session.
Baker has said that opioid abuse, which was linked to more than 1,000 deaths in the state last year, is a top administration priority. On Monday, state health officials awarded $2.9 million in grants to expand drug-prevention efforts throughout Massachusetts, including money for many underserved communities from Cape Cod to the Berkshires.
The grants will expand the number of participating communities to 127 from 27, many through new collaborations with neighboring cities to promote drug prevention through awareness and education.
“Tackling substance abuse requires a multipronged approach,” said Marylou Sudders, the state’s health and human services secretary. “This unprecedented grant will allow communities to ‘meet them where they are’ and address risky behavior earlier.”
The grants are intended to expand work begun by community-level programs that targeted underage drinking. Now, many of those communities will form partnerships that cross municipal borders and address the drug problem.
The announcement occurred on a day when Michael Botticelli, the White House drug czar, spoke at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health about the need for broad and innovative cooperation in the fight against abuse.
“We know that there’s not a silver-bullet solution,” said Botticelli, who previously served as the state’s director of substance abuse services.
Botticelli said Massachusetts has served as a national model for the wider availability of naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses. Emergency workers across the state can carry naloxone, often marketed as Narcan, and many pharmacies in Massachusetts sell Narcan to the public.
Now, Botticelli said, 26 states have made it more widely available. “This is not about enabling. This is about saving someone’s life,” Botticelli said.
A poll released Sunday by the Globe and the Harvard School of Public Health showed that nearly three-quarters of Massachusetts adults believe heroin abuse is an extremely serious or very serious problem.
The survey also showed that nearly four of 10 adults in the state and nationwide know someone who has abused prescription painkillers.
Dr. Daniel Alford, a panelist and director of the Addiction Medicine Residency Program at the Boston University School of Medicine, said many physicians have been overprescribing and mismanaging opioids as a pain treatment.
However, Alford cautioned, a balance needs to be struck between the urgency to reduce opioid dependence and the needs of patients who depend on medication to relieve pain.