The rise in opioid-related overdoses and deaths here in Newton is shocking. Newton saw a significant increase, with 57 reported overdoses and deaths in 2015 and 75 reported overdoses — 17 of which resulted in death.
As Mayor, I will appoint a Task Force of experts in medicine (particularly Newton Wellesley Hospital), public safety, and social services and work with our neighboring communities and the State to review the data they have collected and put together a comprehensive community-wide response to this epidemic.
As Mayor, my priorities will be to:
Educate the public with a city-wide public awareness campaign that includes NewTV, blogs, print messages, and signage. More people die from drug overdoses than from guns or car accidents. Educational messages must shatter stereotypes about drug addicts. The public needs to understand that a drug addict is not just that poor guy sleeping on the street but also the well-to-do adolescent shooting up heroin in his bedroom, or the parent of your kid’s best friend. Statistics show that today’s drug addict is often a white, middle-class professional living in the suburbs.
Develop partnerships with schools. In-school education, similar to what happened after the rash of high-school suicides, may help too. Our schools will be key elements to help prevent future generations from abusing opioids. We know, from Governor Baker’s report, An Assessment of Fatal and Nonfatal Opioid Overdoses in Massachusetts (2011 – 2015), released last month, that children as young as 11 years old have been reported to have opioid use disorders. We must equip administrators and guidance counselors to better identify signs and risk factors of addiction, address the disease, and provide support to students and caregivers.
Develop partnerships with our hospitals, health providers, and nonprofits. We need to look at alternative, holistic methods to deal with pain management that do not include prescription drugs and build resilience and tolerance to discomfort. We can continue to partner with Newton Wellesley Hospital on educating physicians about proper prescribing practices and addiction risks associated with opioid prescriptions using the data they have to know who the heavy prescribers are. Local pharmacies must also play a key role in a community-wide plan.
Eliminate the stigma. Unless we change how we discuss drug addiction, people who develop drug dependencies and their families will continue to feel shame, hide their addiction, and avoid treatment. We must make it clear that addiction is not a moral choice. Addiction is a disease. We must make sure that those in need feel free to access the City’spublic safety and health departments for help and we must provide the resources and assistance.
Promote awareness and identify disposal stations (fire and police stations, Newton Wellesley Hospital, and pharmacies) where it is safe and convenient to dispose of drugs. We all have painkillers and opiates in our house from dental problems and other issues. These pills are being targeted by kids, workers, other guests in your home. Realtors are recommending to homeowners to lock up their medicine cabinets for open houses because people are sweeping bathrooms to access opioids. We need places to dispose of these unused drugs safely.
Make Naloxone (NARCAN) available in every municipal building. Naloxone is an antidote to opiates of every variety, and it can reverse the effects of an overdose in a matter of minutes. Making it freely available will not solve the problem, but this can save lives.
Provide a resource guide where users can go for help and families can go for support. The more information there is available, the more likely people will be able to get help.