The opioid addiction epidemic has by now gotten everyone's attention. That fighting it is so difficult testifies to the power of the addiction and the extent of the problem throughout the region.
All six New England governors gathered Tuesday in Boston for a forum on the epidemic sponsored by Harvard Medical School. All six, four Democrats and two Republicans, have taken measures to address the epidemic, and all agree that much more must be done.
Charlie Baker, Massachusetts' Republican governor, said at the forum, as he has before, that the stories he heard on the campaign trail about how addictions to painkillers and heroin had devastated families made the issue personal for him. There were 1,379 unintentional opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts in 2015 and without the overdose reversal drug Narcan there could have been more than 5,000, said the governor, adding "I have no illusions about how tough this is going to be."
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin faulted the pharmaceutical industry and the US Food and Drug Administration, asserting that "We're handing out OxyContin like candy." In fairness, doctors reacted to complaints that pain was not being treated adequately by stepping up the use of painkillers. With the extent of painkiller addiction and its link to heroin now established, the medical community is working to lessen their use and combat the opioid epidemic, with Massachusetts making significant progress.
It is distressing that all six governors agreed that the social stigma of addiction is hindering that battle. By now, all the old stereotypes and myths about addicts should have been discarded. Opioid addiction afflicts the Berkshires and Boston, poor and wealthy families, blue collar and white collar workers, and people of every race, creed and religion. Because it can impact anyone it is everyone's problem and everyone must contribute to the solution rather than block it by clinging to outdated ideas about addiction.