The Massachusetts State House

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Policy And Public Opinion Align To Trigger Opiate Initiative

June 23, 2015

With Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey teaming up to tackle the problem of opiate abuse, some treatment advocates who've watched the state struggle to respond to the drug epidemic see hope where they hasn't been in a long time.

Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian has been involved in combatting the opiate epidemic for over a decade. He was the author of a report put out in 2005 that listed many of the same recommendations Baker and Healey hope to implement 10 years later. Koutoujian says that now could be the time for the state to really make a difference in the raging epidemic since many of the players needed to make new policy are on board.

"The window of public opinion is aligning with the window of policy and I think they will have the opportunity for much of this," Koutoujian told WGBH News Monday.

"I think this one, this effort, now having the direct support of the governor and the attorney general and tremendously wide — a mile wide and a mile deep — support of the public is in the place now to do something for real," Koutoujian said.

AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman was part of the task force and has been a vocal advocate for treatment programs since his days in the state senate.

"Everything has clicked, I think," Tolman said of the conditions and team Baker worked with launching his opiate response.

"What we do have is everyone working together and we know we have to find out what is going to stem the tide of this epidemic. We put all the tools in place. The courts were very very involved . Probation was involved. The medical community was involved," Tolman said.

Koutoujian said that most in law enforcement have no trouble understanding the difference between cracking down on the supply side of the drug trade — the dealers — and the helping stop the demand coming from thousands of addicts by helping them get off drugs.

"The dealers are one thing but the users have a chronic medical condition and I think law enforcement does understand this," Koutoujian, who was a prosecutor before becoming a House rep who lead the Public Health Committee, said. He was appointed sheriff in Middlesex County in 2011.


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