Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lowell Sun - Editorial

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Time states face up to substance-abuse crisis

Anyone who read the story in Sunday’s Sun of Zachary Gys’ descent into opiate and opioid addiction that ultimately led to his death had to be moved by his parents’ struggle to find him the proper care.

We salute Zachary’s father Mickey Gys and mother Louise Griffin for having the courage to speak out about their son, who lost his four-year battle with substance abuse at the age of 21.

This killer of predominately white, middle-class males leaves families reluctant to discuss this burgeoning epidemic due to the shame society associates with drug-related deaths. Fortunately, the Lowell couple refused to suffer in silence, and instead performed a public service by detailing their frustrations and heartbreak in dealing with a public health system ill equipped to handle this crisis.

This uphill fight is further complicated by the state’s insurance industry, which has yet to agree that substance dependency should be treated like any other physical ailment.

As Louise Griffin told Sun reporter Todd Feathers: “The system is broken because there’s just not a comprehensive enough approach to treat this disease.”

On both the public-health and insurance fronts, it comes down to money. The resources dedicated to this crisis — even with the legislation in July that dedicated $20 million for expanded detox care — just scratch the surface.

The enormity of the problem can be seen in these figures: According to federal data, the state averages around 173,000 people dependent on illicit drugs each year. At the same time, only 11 percent of those who should be in treatment are seeking and receiving it.

Gov. Charlie Baker has vowed to make this opiate epidemic one of his administration’s top priorities. However, he’s saddled with at least a $765 million deficit.

We do see some promise in Vermont’s “hub-and-spoke” system, where patients are treated and assessed to coordinate care. Of course, this only works if there are sufficient inpatient and outpatient facilities to handle the demand.

That July law also requires insurers to cover up to 14 days in a residential facility, but State Rep. Tom Golden says that’s not enough. Golden, who represents Lowell and Chelmsford, filed legislation that would require insurers to cover substance-abuse problems the same way they cover physical illness, and pay for up to 30 days in a residential-treatment program.

You can bet this bill will be vigorously fought by the state’s insurance lobby, but if we are to get a handle on this substance-abuse scourge, this or similarly worded legislation must be passed.

Drug overdoses in this state during December alone took at least 60 lives.

No more foot-dragging. A parent shouldn’t need to send a son 1,500 miles for treatment. The time for coordinated action is now.

lowell sun 01/28/2015

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