WALTHAM — US Attorney General Loretta Lynch committed support from federal law enforcement as well as public health agencies Friday in the region’s fight against what has become a growing opioid abuse crisis.
“It is an epidemic, it is a tragedy, and it is a public health crisis,” Lynch told a gathering of medical and criminal justice officials at a gathering Friday at the Massachusetts Medical Society.
The gathering, titled the “Opioid Misuse and Addiction Summit,” was sponsored by US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office and the Massachusetts Medical Society, and was intended as a discussion on the response to the opioid abuse crisis. Panel discussions included “Perspectives from Persons With Substance Use Disorders,” and “Addressing the Problem from a Pharmacist’s Perspective.”
Lynch was the keynote speaker, and she told the doctors, public health and law enforcement officials in the crowd that President Obama has prioritized his administration’s response to the crisis, saying it was “at the level” of such importance that the president discussed it several days ago during his weekly address.
She said the president developed a “Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan,” with strategies for enforcement, proper disposal of drugs, monitoring of prescriptions and education and awareness about the dangers of substance abuse.
“We are using every civil, criminal and administrative tool we have to discover, disrupt and dismantle illegal traffic in pharmaceutical controlled substances,” Lynch said.
The state and region have recognized a growing crisis in recent years as hospitals have seen an alarming spike in heroin overdoses, and more and more users are lacing heroin with fentanyl, a powerful pain killer that has been attributed to many overdose deaths.
Research shows that 4 of 5 heroin addicts say their addiction was rooted in the abuse of prescription painkillers, which they may have been prescribed after a sports injury, or an injury from a car accident. Once they were addicted, heroin was cheaper to feed their habit.
Lynch said the US Drug Enforcement Administration has increased law enforcement efforts. On Thursday, for instance, a DEA task force charged 25 people and seized 100 grams of fentanyl during a sting in Taunton, which has been hit hard by the crisis.
Lynch said that the approach to combating the epidemic needs to involve the medical community, as well, calling addiction a public health crisis. She said the Obama administration has offered support for programs to assist doctors who prescribe painkillers to patients, to monitor their condition.
Meanwhile, she said, a multi-agency Heroin Task Force has been meeting in recent months to develop a comprehensive plan to combating heroin to Congress by the end of the year “to counter the spread of heroin nationwide.”
“If we are able to harness the expertise, the passion and the conviction assembled in this room today, I have no doubt that we can preserve opportunity, strengthen families and save lives,” Lynch said.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia