Surgeon General Praises Massachusetts’ Fight Against Opioid Abuse

He toured the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program as part of a nationwide campaign against substance abuse.

Vivek Murthy

Vivek Murthy, right, with BHCHP’s Jim O’Connell/Photo by Jamie Ducharme

During a tour of the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) Friday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy spoke highly of Massachusetts’ efforts to combat the opioid crisis, but said there’s still more to be done at every level of the epidemic.

Murthy, who was a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for nearly a decade, visited Boston Medical Center (BMC) and BHCHP as part of Turn the Tide RX, his national campaign to improve opioid prescription practices and curb drug misuse. In addition to touring facilities across the country, later this year his office will send a letter to 1.2 million prescribers, asking them to join the fight against drug abuse.

“There’s a lot working in Massachusetts,” Murthy says. “I was really impressed at how [BMC and BHCHP] have been able to integrate treatment of addiction and substance use disorders with traditional primary care treatment. It helps patients get care and make it more accessible, and that’s what we need more of throughout the country.”

While Massachusetts may be on the right track, Murthy acknowledged that there’s still vast room for improvement—both as a state and a country. “We need to expand treatment, we need to get naloxone in the hands of first responders, we need to change our prescribing practices so we’re treating pain safely and effectively, and we also need to help the public understand that opioids are addictive,” he says.

Murthy—who has long been interested in substance abuse issues—met with patients and care providers at BHCHP, an organization that treats thousands 0f people, many of whom struggle with drug or alcohol misuse, every year. The organization has offered a full slate of medical services for decades, but it’s gained particular attention of late due to its Supportive Place for Outreach and Treatment, a newly opened room where users can safely ride out a high under medical supervision.

The Surgeon General also emphasized the importance of an ideological shift in our culture. “I hear from people who don’t want medication-assisted treatment facilities in their neighborhoods, because they worry it’ll bring bad people to their neighborhood—but they wouldn’t mind having a new cancer treatment center or heart disease treatment center,” he says. “Addiction is not a bad choice or a moral failing. It’s a chronic illness.”

Murthy’s visit comes just a few days after the White House announced that Massachusetts could receive as much as $20 million in federal money earmarked for opioid treatment programs, under a plan proposed by the Obama administration. Indeed, Murthy says such federal programs, coupled with local efforts, will be the key to finding a solution.

“The only way we’re going to solve this crisis is if we work together at the federal, state, and local levels,” he says. “There’s a lot happening at the federal level, but it’s on the ground. It’s at the local level that change really happens.”