Letter to the Editor

We can and should dedicate more resources to treating substance use disorders

Dear Editor:

With a 46 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts from 2012 to 2013, it is wise for Governor Charles Baker to focus the public’s attention on this health crisis and dedicate more state resources to combat substance use disorders, and for the Independent Newspaper Group to call attention to the problem.(More Substance Counselors are needed in our region, February 12, 2015).). The Governor recently announced a 16-member Opioid Addiction Working Group tasked with formulating a statewide strategy to combat addiction. MGH physician Sarah Wakeman, MD, the Medical Director for Substance Use Disorders at the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement, is a member of this working group.

The recent spike in overdose deaths has highlighted the need for urgent action to treat the medical disease of addiction. The communities of Chelsea, Revere and Charlestown identified substance use as the number one priority in MGH’s most recent community health needs assessments. Last fall, Mass General Hospital made improving care for MGH patients with substance use disorders a key priority in its overall strategic plan, building on the 18 years of community prevention and early intervention work of the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement.

 The plan addresses this chronic disease starting with community-based prevention, and then building strong connections and linkages among inpatient, outpatient and community-based services throughout Greater Boston. The goal is to improve access to evidence-based treatment, smooth transitions between care levels and reduce relapse and readmissions. The approach includes a team of addiction specialists for inpatients, improved care in the community at MGH health centers, and community-based recovery coaches – peers in recovery who remove barriers to treatment and serve as navigators.

 MGH supports three community coalitions that are working to prevent substance use for youth, adults and families through education, prevention and intervention strategies. Revere CARES formed in 1997, the Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition (CSAC) formed in 2004, and the Chelsea Substance Use Disorder Initiative formed in 2013. The coalitions also work to increase access to and resources for successful treatment and recovery from substance use disorders. Revere CARES worked with the state and the Revere Fire Department to allow Revere firefighters to carry Narcan on their equipment, the first department in the Commonwealth to do so. CSAC helped to establish the Charlestown Drug Court, a specialized court session for individuals on probation with chronic substance abuse who voluntarily participate in court-stipulated drug treatment as an alternative to prison.

 The focus of MGH’s new approach  is to find the right combination of treatment and support that will help patients sustain long-term recovery. We look forward to sharing the results of our Strategic Plan for Substance Use Disorders with the Commonwealth and other health care providers as we work together to address this public health emergency.

 Joan Quinlan, MPA

Vice President

Community Health

Mass General Hospital

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