Former State Senator Steve Tolman, Activists Will Protest Lift on Zohydro Ban

Families of addicts are heading to the State House to call attention to the controversial drug.

After a federal judge struck down Governor Deval Patrick’s attempts to ban the powerful painkiller Zohydro from being distributed to Massachusetts’s patients, family members of addicts decided they couldn’t just stand by and watch as more opioid pills hit the streets.

In response, they’re planning a protest at the State House—and it’s going to be “big.”

With the backing of former State Senator Steve Tolman, members of Learn to Cope, an advocacy group that aims to curb the heroin problem by raising awareness about the impacts it’s having across the state, say they’ll stage a peaceful protest on Beacon Hill on April 29, and make their message loud and clear: ” The release of [Zohydro] will cause more addiction and more death.”

Joanne Peterson, founder and executive director of Learn to Cope, is organizing the event, called “Massachusetts Says No to Zohydro.” In a message to Boston, she said she expects this particular protest—based on a federal judge’s recent controversial ruling to allow its distribution, despite warnings from state leaders—to be “big.”

The organized event is in response to a preliminary injunction granted by a federal judge this week, which blocked Patrick from imposing the ban on Zohydro. The company that makes the drug, Zogenix, Inc., filed for a temporary restraining order in court after Patrick first announced his intended plans to stop the drug from being prescribed during a press conference earlier this month addressing the current opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.

Ultimately, the judge sided with the makers of Zohydro, who argued in a court filing that Patrick’s attempts were unconstitutional, and the Federal Drug Administration, which had already approved of the drug, had power over Patrick’s ban.

Regardless of the ruling, members of Learn to Cope think it’s important to continue to call attention to the powerful drug, citing the fact that it’s not tamper-proof and can be easily crushed and snorted by people who weren’t prescribed the medicine.

The group has also rallied support from Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, who said he has seen the opiate addiction problem “rip families apart and devastate communities” for decades, and adding Zohydro to the mix will further exasperate that. “I have witnessed it, I have lived it, and I have come to the conclusion that the only way we are going to change this pattern is to start to stand up against,” he said. “We do not need more synthetic heroin in our communities, we need less of it. We’ve got a problem that almost overnight turns very good people into the devil, and evil people that have no concern. Me and many people have seen that. And Zohydro will add to it. Why do we need another drug that’s Vicodin on steroids? Why do we need something like that?”

Boston City Councilor Steve Murphy has also vowed to attend the protest in Boston on April 29. According to the group’s Facebook page, nearly 100 people have committed to going, and Peterson thinks that number will grow in the coming weeks. “We feel Zohydro is like a Weapon of Mass Destruction! Many states are opposing this drug being released! We need to ban together all states in this country and let our concerns and our voices be heard,” she said on the event page.