Sen. Eric Lesser tours, touts benefits of Sisters of Providence Opioid Treatment Program

MassLive

HOLYOKE — Following his appointment this week to a regional committee focused on health-related challenges in the Northeast United States, state Sen. Eric Lesser spent time Wednesday learning more about one of the Pioneer Valley’s busiest substance abuse treatment programs.

The Opioid Treatment Program run by the Sisters of Providence Health System staff in Holyoke provides medication-assisted treatment for opiate addiction for people suffering from addiction in all four counties west of Worcester. And as heroin and opiate addiction has seen a drastic uptick in recent years, the demand for the program’s services has increased significantly, according to Dr. Robert Roose, chief medical officer of addiction services for the Sisters of Providence Health System under Mercy Medical Center.

Roose, who was recently appointed to an opioid crisis task force by Gov. Charlie Baker, said that he helps run a 30-patient acute treatment unit for inpatient addiction services which admits around 200 new people each month.

He also oversees two outpatient opioid-treatment programs which serve a total of around 1,000 patients each day with one of the three FDA-approved drugs for treating opioid addiction.

As Lesser is now representing Massachusetts to the Council of State Governments Eastern Region Committee on Health, he said the program’s successes should be replicated to help everyone who is looking to break an addiction.

“We have a very serious epidemic on our hands. The opioid crisis has touched everyone, from all walks of life,” Lesser said. “There are treatment options available but we need to make sure the most people possible have access to those services. The other side is looking for legislative ways to prevent future epidemics.”

The heroin epidemic’s resurgence in the past few years has led to a public health crisis throughout much of the Northeast United States, including Massachusetts. While the Bay State had 363 opioid-related deaths in the year 2000, by 2011 that number had grown to 642 by 2011. That figure was more than 860 in 2013, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

In 2013, President Barack Obama’s administration renewed the nation’s drug policy, transforming it to address the drug problem and addiction as public health issues. Treating substance abuse primarily as a criminal justice issue dates back to the declaration of the “war on drugs” in the early 1970s by President Richard Nixon and based on data collected over the course of nearly 40 years proved unsuccessful.

But even as attitudes has shifted toward care over punishment, another hurdle has been providing enough treatment options to meet the need. In Massachusetts, established a 16-member task force to work to identify best practices, and opportunities to expand treatment. Roose is among the members.

Lesser said he plans to take what he learned from Roose in Holyoke, including the fact that there is typically a two- to three-week waiting list for addiction-treatment services, to Beacon Hill.

“This crisis won’t be solved from our courtrooms and jails,” Lesser said. “We need to expand our treatment options and get people the help they need when they need it.”

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