Committee Will Hear Public Testimony About Heroin Problem During State House Meeting

Health officials are expected to address elected leaders as the battle against drug use continues.

Photo By Alex Lau

Photo By Alex Lau

As part of an ongoing tour throughout the state to hear first-hand accounts about the impacts the heroin epidemic has had on residents and their communities, a special commission convened by Senate President Therese Murray will meet on Beacon Hill on Tuesday to continue the quest to find ways to combat ongoing drug abuse issues in Massachusetts.

The Special Committee on Drug Abuse and Treatment Options’ statewide tour kicked off in February, and since then has hosted panel discussions in several areas as the heightened awareness about the escalation in heroin and opiate overdoses continued to soar.

The committee met for the first time just one month before Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency, calling the heroin problem an “epidemic” that was touching every corner of the state. On March 27, Patrick vowed to spend $20 million on additional resources to increase access to treatment and recovery services. He also ordered the state’s Department of Public Health make Narcan, a drug used to reverse heroin overdoses, readily available to all first responders.

Since their inaugural hearing, the committee, comprised of several Senate representatives from around Massachusetts, has also met with residents in Plymouth, Holyoke, Methuen, and Gardner.

Now, the group is making its way back to Boston, which, like many other cities and towns, has been hard-hit by persistent drug overdoses and heroin use. Boston is also the center of a recent investigation that showed at least a single batch of the addictive drug was tainted by a powerful painkiller called fentanyl, which has been blamed for overdose deaths in other parts of the Northeast.

Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, an agency that has seen a sharp increase in heroin overdoses over the last few years, and has used available resources to try and rectify the rampant drug abuse in the city, said representatives from her office would be on hand during the Beacon Hill hearing Tuesday. She said they will weigh in on aspects of the department’s job that have proved successful, and educate the committee about options that could fill the gaps where addiction treatment needs more support.

“We are going to focus on all of the work that has been done in Boston that we know is effective. I think we’re going to really applaud our new mayor for immediately taking on this issue,” said Ferrer.

Not long after taking office, Mayor Marty Walsh proposed a new Office of Recovery Services to better assist addicts in need. “[We are] thinking hard about making sure we are doing a better job at linking people to appropriate treatment and recovery. I think we are going to focus on where we think there is a need for additional resources, based on our experience and the kinds of activities and initiatives that would need to happen on the policy level to support the prevention of addiction and the treatment of people struggling with addiction disease,” said Ferrer.

This type of input is exactly what the committee is looking for. Murray said the reason it’s important to have these hearings throughout the Commonwealth is because there is “something unique in every part of the state going on.” In the Plymouth area, for example, where one of the first meetings was held, officials have been dealing with an “inordinate amount” of section 35’s because of the addiction problem. A section 35 request allows family members of an addict to submit a court order for them to be detained due to their drug or alcohol use.

Murray said overall the drug problem has been overwhelming, and the treatment options are few and far between. “This is an epidemic,” said Murray. “If this was the Swine Flu, we would have every possible resource at the table…that’s what we need now. And we need it now…it’s getting worse.”

Boston reached out to Walsh’s office to find out if the mayor plans on making an appearance at his old stomping grounds to add input to the conversation, but officials from City Hall did not immediately reply.