June 05, 2018    

Fighting the Drug Addiction Epidemic


A Comprehensive and Compassionate Plan for Fighting the Drug Addiction Epidemic

As our next U.S. Senator, Geoff Diehl will be dedicated to defeating the drug addiction epidemic that is stealing the souls of addicts and breaking the hearts of their families. The greatest mistake we can make is keeping the status quo. To end the epidemic, we need a multi-tiered plan that will address the cause of the problem, stop the supply of illegal drugs, treat addicts, and assist their families to bring about a brighter future for so many people affected.

Since 2001, Massachusetts has been facing a steadily rising rate of opioid-related abuse, addiction, and overdose. Opioid-related deaths have increased four-fold since 2000, and over two-thirds of the state’s cities and towns experienced opioid-related deaths in 2013-2014.

As our next U.S. Senator, Diehl is committed to fighting the epidemic starting on day one. As a legislator, he supported landmark legislation that strengthened prescription laws, increased beds for treatment, and started screening to identify those at risk. Diehl understands that this growing epidemic is taking an unseen toll on far too many families. That’s why he has developed a comprehensive and compassionate plan to;

  •  Increase access to treatment for addicts statewide,
  •  Support research for alternative pain management practices,
  •  Encourage responsible prescriber practices and prescription management, and
  •  Stop the flow of illegal opiates across US and MA borders.

His plan addresses the opioid addiction epidemic at its roots, and works to alleviate the contributing factors to the opioid crisis in ways that maximize the infrastructure already in place while maintaining fiscal discipline. Addressing the epidemic at the medical, prescriber, patient, community, and criminal level will allow for safer medical practices, increase community awareness, maximize effectiveness of treatment centers, and prevent this epidemic from growing and in fact, reverse the trend.

Increase Access to Treatment:
While Massachusetts has many successful recovery programs, some fail to meet the needs of struggling addicts. Those seeking treatment have been sent to recovery homes or detox centers that are ineffective or out of state. Preying on a vulnerable population, they often charge exorbitant rates while poorly treating their patients. The out-of-state locations, high costs, and ineffective treatment plans make these centers a poor option for addicts seeking permanent sobriety. In-state treatment centers all too often have long waiting periods, during which time many addicts either return to their substance abuse or pass away.

To help solve this issue that can financial rip apart families, Diehl supports funding an increased number of in-state treatment and detox facilities that host inpatient programs and also walk-in consultations for addicts seeking treatment. An increase in regulated clinical resources will alleviate wait times and allow for patients to remain in-state in regulated clinics for the duration of their treatment. Consultations will allow addicts to form at least a nominal relationship with a practitioner, who will be able to follow up and ensure that the patient receives the treatment they need. This also includes follow-up treatment and connection to sober living services to help addicts maintain sobriety and successfully engage in activities of daily living.

Diehl also supports increased enforcement of consequences for practitioners who illegally charge MassHealth patients for opioid addiction treatment services above the legal fees.  Because affordability is one of the major barriers to treatment even for those with private insurance, Diehl supports an increase in federal funding for opioid addiction clinics in Massachusetts and nationally, including greater availability of life-saving drugs such as Narcan, Methadone, and Naltrexone in state clinics and in clinics and police stations across the country.

Introduce Alternative Pain Management Solutions:
The most common cause of opioid addiction is an initial prescription of incredibly addicting drugs such as Vicodin, Codeine, Oxycontin, and Hydrocodone for chronic pain. As of 2017, more people report using controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined. As a result of how addicting these drugs are to the human brain, these prescribed patients often become addicts, but are still facing the challenge of chronic pain.

When treating opioid addicts, there is little to no alternative for treating chronic pain and addiction simultaneously. Prescribed alternatives such as high doses of NSAIDs like Ibuprofen often are not strong enough, and addicts find themselves tragically turning back to opioids in search of relief. There is a huge gap when it comes to solving this problem, and Diehl supports the funding of additional research into FDA-approved chronic pain management alternatives, which is essential for preventing these addicts from relapsing and to help them live pain-free lives. Providing addicts in treatment with other federally funded pain management alternatives such as acupuncture, integrated manual therapies like cranio-sacral acupuncture, and chiropractic medicine has also been shown to assist in treatment and will help addicts access the kind of pain management that will help them remain in recovery.

Modify Prescriber Practices:
While prescription medications are the most commonly abused, this is largely due to an epidemic of over-prescription in the medical community. The number of opioids prescribed to Massachusetts residents has increased steadily since 2000. In 2015, nearly one in six MA residents was prescribed an opioid by a healthcare provider, and on average received more than three filled prescription doses. These prescriptions are often over-prescribed and overfilled: The average hysterectomy patient is prescribed nearly twice the amount of opioid painkillers necessary for recovery. To prevent this, Diehl supports a restrained approach to prescriptions from physicians, and encourages a policy of requiring physician authorization before each refill.

Diehl also supports limiting opioid prescriptions to an initial seven day dose, which would adequately address the majority of conditions currently eliciting prescriptions, such as routine surgeries and and outpatient procedures. Additionally, practitioners should have frequent conversations with patients before prescribing opioids to ensure that it is the best solution for their pain management.

Adhere to MassPAT/PDMP Prescription Management:
Massachusetts currently operates under a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) called MassPAT or Massachusetts Prescription Awareness Tool. This program allows physicians to identify patient history for Schedule II-IV drugs. This program provides a prescriber with information about previous prescriptions, who prescribed them, and also shares information across some state lines. This prevents addicted patients from seeking prescriptions from multiple providers or crossing state lines for new prescriptions. Massachusetts prescribers are required to utilize this tool each time prior to issuing a schedule II or III prescription. Diehl hopes to maximize this existing infrastructure by vocally supporting strict adherence to these requirements, enacting them federally where applicable (states that don’t currently require physician usage for each script) and incentivizing regular reporting via this tool statewide. Utilizing PDMPs is a federal solution as well: all 50 US States currently have their own PDMP systems in place. Once elected, Diehl will work to expand the number of states whose PDMP records integrate with MassPAT in order to promote enhanced prescription management nationwide. This will allow for each state to retain control over its own system while ensuring that access to opioids is limited for those hoping to obtain multiple prescriptions across state lines. Diehl also supports increased accountability for noncompliant providers, including a potential loss of license for physicians who do not adhere to PDMP reporting requirements.

Community Health Education Initiatives:
Alienation, lack of education, support system, and connection to resources are all contributing factors to opioid addiction. These are also factors that frequently contribute to delinquent behavior in minors. In keeping with this, rates of opioid abuse and addiction have been steadily rising in Massachusetts residents under the age of 18. In 2013-2014, opioids accounted for more than a quarter of all fatalities in the 18-24 age group. To prevent this, Diehl supports peer education programs in high schools to increase a sense of community and raise awareness around the warning signs of addiction, the dangers associated with opioid abuse, and how to get help if you are experiencing the symptoms of early addiction. Other components of community health education include educational resources for parents, and training school nurses and police officers in the delivery of Narcan. A particular emphasis will be placed on educating Massachusetts communities with the highest growing rates of opioid-related deaths such as Worcester and Suffolk counties.

Stop the Flow of Illegal Opiates into the US: 
While historically prescription drugs have been the most highly abused, Massachusetts is currently facing an influx of illegal drugs. Since 2007, New England has been the leading region for heroin availability across the US. Heroin has also contributed to over 60% of opioid-related overdoses since 2014. Drug traffickers have also begun to alter the chemical structure of drugs to evade federal drug laws, and as a result Massachusetts has seen an increase in the accessibility of synthetic drugs like Fentanyl over the past five years. The abuse of Fentanyl and Fentanyl-laced cocaine can be particularly fatal, as users are unaware of the true contents of what they are ingesting. The problem has long been evident nationally, with overdoses involving Fentanyl and cocaine nearly tripling since 2000. To help stop this, Diehl supports the enforcement of the death penalty for repeat offenders found to be intentionally lacing cocaine and heroin with synthetically altered drugs like Fentanyl.

Examining these trends, there is a clear link between a lack of border security and an increase in the flow of illegal opiates into the United States. As much as 90% of heroin in America comes from the southern border, and there has been a measurable increase of these substances being sold by illegal immigrants across the state and nation. Diehl believes that a strong and secure border is a key component to fighting the opioid epidemic, including additional training for border patrolmen to better identify and stop suspicious transfers as they cross the border. In Massachusetts, Diehl also supports harsh penalties for criminals found distributing these substances, including upholding mandatory minimum sentencing. Dedicated to stopping traffickers, Diehl supports enacting a federal level mandatory minimum life sentencing policy for traffickers found with over 30kg of opioid substance in their possession.

Diehl is dedicated to providing support for the cities and towns where this problem is most prevalent and ensuring that local and state police forces receive the necessary training to better understand how to identify and stop these crimes before they happen. While Diehl’s plan and priority begins with his home state, he also encourages a federal crackdown on cities harboring this illegal activity, and will work to support the Trump administration’s plan to shut down illicit opioid sales on a national level. In pursuit of this, Diehl supports increased security for international shipments, including mandatory electronic pre-screening data submissions for all international mail shipments, the increased presence of drug detecting canines at the border, and enhanced diplomatic relations with the Chinese and Mexican governments to ensure that shipments are also thoroughly screened prior to leaving those countries. To promote accountability, Diehl will work to enact stronger federal accountability laws for manufacturers of illegally transported opioids, along with harsher criminal penalties for dealers and traffickers.