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WestfordCAT has asked the state Senate candidates to respond to questions about pressing societal issues. This week’s question: Since the year 2000, Middlesex County has experienced the greatest number of opioid overdose deaths in the state. That trend has continued through 2017. What should be done to stem this epidemic for Middlesex and throughout the state?
The candidates who responded, state their positions below. John Drinkwater, a Lowell Democrat, did not respond.
RODNEY ELLIOTT, Lowell Democrat
As Mayor in Lowell, I created the Mayor’s Task Force on Opiate Epidemic, to develop the multifaceted approach that is needed to combat this crisis.
My focus as a Senator would be funding for education in schools at a young age to safeguard our children from this horror; expansion of treatment beds and insurance coverage and added recovery coaches to ensure proper counseling and long term support.
People that deal in drugs of misery should be prosecuted and removed from our neighborhoods. They’re preying on our youth and it needs to stop.
Big Pharma should be required to fund treatment programs for people who have become addicted to their product and I led that effort for Lowell to join the class action suit against these companies. They weren’t truthful about their highly addictive potential and should pay the price for their deception.
This epidemic impacts many different government services including child services, law enforcement, and health care. The cost to government is astronomical.
I will continue to focus on this problem in the Senate, to turn the tide on human suffering.
This epidemic knows no borders. It has hit all communities extremely hard. People are losing their lives and families are devastated.
EDWARD J. KENNEDY, Lowell Democrat
In order to end the opioid crisis in Massachusetts, I support expanded access to treatment and treatment beds, increased availability of Narcan, opioid education in schools and hospitals, and prescription drug monitoring programs. I also favor increasing the penalties for drug dealers who sell drugs laced with fentanyl.
The opioid crisis began in the late 1990’s and it has impacted every state and virtually every community in the United States. More than 2 million people have abused or become dependent on prescription pain medicine or street drugs in the U.S. During 2016 more than 63,000 people died from a drug overdose, two-thirds of those deaths involving an opioid.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports that there have been 8,236 deaths in Massachusetts during the past five years (2013-2017) and that 278 (or 3.4 percent) of those deaths were residents of the First Middlesex State Senate District. In addition to the loss of life and emotional impact the crisis has had on every family it touches, the economic impact has also been substantial. In 2015 alone, the cost of the opioid crisis was estimated to be $3,151 per Massachusetts resident when mortality costs, health costs, productivity losses and criminal justice costs are considered.
BILL MARTIN, Lowell Democrat
The recently adopted opioid legislation is a good start, particularly in imposing limits on prescriptions to avoid people becoming addicted in the first place, and in establishing treatment and counseling protocols. I will monitor the effectiveness of these recent changes and make more changes where necessary.
But while the new legislation is a good step forward, we already know more work needs to be done. There are three urgent care pilot programs in other parts of the state and we need one in Middlesex County. We should be ready to help people when they want help, and urgent care programs have proven effective at placing people in treatment the same day they seek it. There are also intensive after care programs in the Boston area that have had success by helping those in treatment transition into housing and jobs to keep them from relapsing. I will push to fund these types of programs in the First Middlesex District. I will also work with the district attorney and local police departments to enforce drug trafficking laws and keep lethal opioids off the streets.
JOHN MACDONALD, Lowell Republican