POLITICS

Massachusetts Launches Plan To Counter Heroin Epidemic

06/22/2015 04:41 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015

BOSTON, June 22 (Reuters) - Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker unveiled a $27 million plan on Monday to increase the state's capacity to treat drug addicts and reduce the stigma around addiction, as the United States battles a surge in heroin and opioid use.

"Opioid abuse is a public health epidemic," said Baker at a press conference. "The solution to eradicating opioids is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and will require all of us to rethink the way we treat addiction."

Heroin overdose deaths in the United States tripled from 2010 to 2013, according to a study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with most users turning to heroin after first using prescription opioids.

In Massachusetts, at least 1,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2014, according to state officials.

Baker's plan calls for 100 new treatment beds, new addiction specialists in state offices, increased education for medical professionals, and updates to the state's database for opiate prescriptions.

The state will work with chain pharmacies for statewide drug take-back programs and increase timely overdose death reporting to help officials identify heroin "hot spots" where they can send resources, Baker said.

Local police are expected to be given access to Narcan and other treatments for reversing the effects of an overdose.

Attorney General Maura Healey said at the press conference the state must improve access to mental health and substance abuse services, saying care should be as accessible for addicts as it is "for diabetics or people suffering with heart disease."

"I speak as a member of law enforcement when I say we are not going to arrest or incarcerate our way out of this," Healey said. "This is a disease."

The program comes after the coastal town of Gloucester this month rolled out new policies that protect addicts from arrest if they come to a police station seeking help, and calls for police to help enroll them in a detoxification program. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Lisa Lambert)

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