On October 31, MMS sponsored a leadership summit on opioid addiction, Medication Assisted Treatment: Improving Access to Evidence-Based Care, an event intended to raise awareness of the need for medication assisted treatment for substance use disorder. The summit was attended by nearly 200 health care professionals at MMS headquarters in Waltham.
U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey, in his keynote address, said, “If we are going to reduce the supply for heroin, fentanyl, and illicit prescription opioids, we have to reduce the demand through treatment.”
“I will not stop fighting for legislative support on this issue,” Sen. Markey added, noting that despite his efforts and those of his colleagues, Congress has repeatedly rejected bills that would financially support addiction recovery programs.
He decried the rising numbers of deaths in Massachusetts due to overdoses — doubling in number in the Bay State in one year — and warned that due to the potent influx of fentanyl from China and Mexico, “we are poised to lose even more lives.”
“Fentanyl is like a Class 5 hurricane making landfall,” Sen. Markey said. “It is the Godzilla of opioids. It is trending too quickly. It is so dangerous that first responders insist on wearing HazMat suits when they arrive at a scene of an overdose for fear they will become contaminated if exposed to it. We just don’t know how dangerous it is, and it’s coming to every street in America.”
Combatting the opioid epidemic requires vigilance coupled with “aggressive data collection, surveillance, increased prescriber and patient education, and the passage of aggressive new laws,” he said, that are aimed at controlling the influx and consumption of opioid drugs.
Markey alerted attendees to a report by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on opioids due to be released early in 2017.
“The Surgeon General’s report on opioids will have a great societal impact,” Sen. Markey said, “similar to when the former Surgeon General years ago released the report about the health hazards of cigarette smoking. History will judge us, because now is our opportunity to respond to the greatest public health crisis in the 21st century.”
Several speakers, including Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, M.D., Middlesex County Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, and others called for a unified effort to destigmatize those who struggle with substance abuse.
“Treatment works, recovery is possible,” Koutoujian said. He described treatment programs sponsored by the Bay State’s criminal justice system that are helping inmates to return to society after incarceration better able to control their drug habits.
Dr. Bharel reminded the capacity audience to commit to viewing substance abuse addiction through the lens of the #StateWithoutStigMA campaign, launched last year by Governor Charlie Baker’s Opioid Working Group. The statewide campaign aims to eradicate the negative stereotype of drug misuse by declaring it to be a treatable illness.
MMS gathered more than a dozen national and local experts on the topic for this summit to speak to such topics as the treatment of addiction as a disease, the importance of psychological treatment and behavioral support, models of care, and supporting physicians and providers in treating opioid use disorders. It was hosted by MMS President James S. Gessner, M.D. and moderated by Dennis M. Dimitri, M.D., immediate past president and Chair of the MMS Task Force on Opioid Therapy and Physician Communication.