Photo: Zengzheng Wang
More and more, we see the opiate epidemic dominating the conversation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. What was once thought to be only an inner-city issue is now affecting every social class in every corner of the state, in every community, whether rich or poor, high, middle or lower class.
The need for treatment on demand is at an all-time high with overdose deaths already on track to surpass last year’s record-breaking numbers. Unfortunately, the majority of people look at someone struggling with addiction as a junky or a low-life drug addict and forget the fact that they are somebody’s son or daughter, sister or brother, mother or father, family member or friend.
The aftermath effect of losing someone to this disease is the ripple of pain that spreads out through the person’s family, friends and the entire community. Treatment on demand and access to long-term treatment are crucial but are lacking in Massachusetts.
What we see are endless spin cycles: five days in a detox, after which no beds are available and the patient is discharged, which means returning to the same circumstances they were trying to escape, which also means being thrown back into the fire. Five days does not fix years of damage, trauma and pain. It also doesn’t work to simply remove the drug without having the individual work on the underlying mental-health issues.
Offering long-term treatment gives a person a better chance of achieving recovery. It’s a fact that statistics, as well as common sense, show that the longer you stay in treatment, the better your chances of success. However, at the present time, we can’t guarantee a person a 30-day or a 90-day, let alone a 6-month or a year-long, stay in a state program.
After detox you need to find a CSS or a TSS bed, which are few and far between, before you even get a chance at a long-term residential program. Massachusetts is lacking in CSS and TSS beds for aftercare following detox, and people are continuing to fall through the cracks, even when they truly want to get help. They are being turned away due to a lack of beds and sent out on the streets where they might not survive.
It’s been over a year now since the Long Island bridge has been closed, cutting off 600+ beds. The services on Long Island included detox, TSS, shelter beds, pre-release programs, juvenile programs, a family shelter and what we desperately lack today: female programs. There has been a lot of talk about the opiate crisis, which is amazing, but immediate action needs to be taken to combat the rising number of deaths.
It’s sad to see someone who is sick and suffering and not receiving the treatment they need to get their life back. If it was another life-threatening disease, they’d be receiving high-quality care, including follow ups for up to five years. They wouldn’t be turned away due to negative public perception of the disease, which is something that every drug addict experiences. If we are going to reduce the number of deaths and help mend the broken hearts of families who are losing their loved ones to this disease, we need guaranteed access to long-term, on-demand treatment.