Community action best response to opioid addiction

SHELBURNE FALLS — The opioid addiction crisis is no longer just an urban problem, but is also leaving its mark on the quality of life in rural towns, Congressman Richard E. Neal told a West County audience Thursday.

Neal and his five panelists hosted a two-hour opioid forum in Memorial Hall to highlight the issue and encourage participants to speak out on their concerns. Use of the hall was donated by the Memorial Hall Association.

Last year, at least 60,000 people died nationally of drug overdoses, which is now the leading cause of death for people under age 50, according to Neal. In Massachusetts, more people now die from drug overdoses than from car crashes or gun violence, according to Neal. Of the overdose deaths, at least half involved heroin or prescription narcotics OxyContin, Vicodin and Fentanyl. “There is not a family in Massachusetts that hasn’t been touched by this crisis,” Neal asserted.

Michael Botticelli, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for President Barack Obama, said Massachusetts has always been a pioneer on opioid drug-abuse prevention. One of the outcomes, said Botticelli, who is now executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center, is how police departments are changing their approach to people with addictions. “Arresting people with an addiction is not the approach,” he said. “It’s about seeing addiction as a disease. Again, I think we see the need to do a better job getting people into treatment.”

Botticelli remarked that the first half of this year was “the first time we saw a reduction in deaths,” but he expressed concern that what was once a bipartisan issue could be clouded by political polarization.

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, a leader of the regional Opioid Task Force, said he started seeing more and more drug overdoses among the unattended deaths reported to his office. At that time, he said, “there was zero treatment…

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