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May 16, 2005


Administration outlines legislation to curb methamphetamine epidemic


Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey today detailed a strategic blueprint to boost substance abuse and prevention programs and help at-risk individuals address the dangers posed by drug addiction. The comprehensive approach, for the first time, highlights prevention as critical to reducing substance abuse problems in the Commonwealth.


The plan calls for:


· the passage of $9.1 million in supplemental funding to expand substance abuse prevention services;


· allowing local school districts as a voluntary option to impose drug testing on students;


· the filing of new legislation cracking down on methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution;


· intensive case management for at-risk youths;


· real-time tracking of heroin overdoses; and


· better coordination among state agencies through the formation of a new Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention.


“In human and economic terms, the costs of drug addiction are unacceptable,” said Healey, who will chair the new Interagency Council.


“The comprehensive strategies unveiled in this plan emphasize prevention and target regions that have high substance abuse. To ensure the most effective use of our resources, these recommendations focus our spending on science-based programs and expanding access to treatment. The best substance abuse strategy is to help kids never to start,” she said.


More than 82,000 people in the Commonwealth received treatment for substance abuse last year. Drug and alcohol abuse continues to increase the burden on criminal justice systems with over 80 percent of individuals abusing drugs. Drug abuse among young people starts at an early age. Among teens who were admitted for substance abuse treatment, they were experimenting with the drug at an average age of 12.9.


Over the last year, Boston has faced a 153 percent increase in emergency room visits related to OxyContin. There has been a dramatic 200 percent increase in opiate -related hospitalizations, particularly heroin and OxyContin, over the past nine years with the most significant increase among 15 to 54 years olds. In 1996, there were 200 opiate -related fatal overdoses and 449 in 2003 statewide.


To address these spikes in substance abuse cases and establish a comprehensive strategy, Healey convened a series of regional roundtable meetings last August with both state and local government agencies, municipal leaders, public safety officials, school administrators and health care experts.


Healey also expressed her commitment to work with the Legislature to approve $9.1 million in substance abuse funding in order to receive a matching grant from the federal government worth $14.5 million.


The funding will allow the expansion of detox services for an additional 6,000 to 8,000 new clients. If Massachusetts does not receive the additional funding, the state will lose millions from the federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, which matches the state funding with over $35 million annually.


The plan also permits the implementation of voluntary, comprehensive school drug testing programs in interested local school districts.


“I would like to thank Lieutenant Governor Healey for recognizing the substance abuse problem in our schools and for her willingness to do something about it,” said Salem School Superintendent Herb Levine. “Her efforts to implement pilot programs for voluntary drug testing is another intervention tool parents can use to keep their kids off drugs and that also helps kids that are addicted get better.”


The Romney Administration also filed legislation today to stiffen fines and penalties for possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamines. Originating on the West Coast, methamphetamine abuse and crime-related activities have become a national epidemic. The alarming trend is marching towards Massachusetts and neighboring states.


The bill contains a list of chemicals that can be used to manufacture methamphetamines and possession of any one, or combination of, these chemicals with intent to manufacture or distribute will result in a felony offense punishable up to five years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.


Healey stated, “Stricter laws combined with community and police efforts will help keep drug dealers off our streets and put them behind bars where they belong.”


Each year, the state spends over $250 million across 13 agencies to provide substance abuse services and treatment for thousands of individuals and families. The formation of the Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention will better coordinate these resources.


“Developing the strategic plan for substance abuse services represents a milestone for Massachusetts. This charts a course for all state agencies to make an impact on the problems associated with substance abuse,” said Acting Public Health Commissioner Paul J. Cote.


Prevention efforts highlighted in the strategic plan include intensive case management for at-risk elementary and middle school students, featuring a program that was developed by the National Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse, and the establishment of two “recovery” schools similar to the charter school model where students leaving drug treatment may complete their education in a supportive environment.


Real-time tracking of heroin overdoses will allow for the targeting of resources to those areas where heroin use is on the increase.


“I am pleased with what I have heard today from Lieutenant Governor Healey and the Administration’s commitment to address the substance abuse crisis confronting the Commonwealth,” said Senator Steven A. Tolman, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “We are facing an epidemic in Massachusetts, particularly with regard to OxyContin and heroin abuse, and we must work together to get the message out and to stem the tide.”

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