Addiction in Franklin County

Senate forms panel to examine drug addiction, treatment, commitments

BOSTON — The state Senate formed its own special committee Thursday to study drug addiction and treatment options in Massachusetts with a focus on the civil commitment process to address what Senate President Therese Murray described epidemic of opiate addiction in Massachusetts.

Murray announced the initiative and senators then quickly adopted an order creating the committee to be chaired by Leominster Sen. Jennifer Flanagan. Flanagan said the committee will review addiction “from detox to treatment” and analyze the effectiveness of the current Section 35 process in which courts can commit an addict for up to 90 days for detox from drug addiction.

“What we’re finding is that as soon as people are detoxed, which has a physical component to it, they’re then released to go back to the communities from which they came from, so we’re looking at the after-treatment and the detox system and how people are going through our system,” Flanagan said.

Sens. William Brownsberger, John Keenan, Joan Lovely, Linda Dorcena Forry and Richard Ross will join Flanagan on the committee.

Murray said that since 1999 the state has seen a 47 percent increase in overdose deaths. She said the problem is acute in the region of the state she represents, where there are more civil commitments for drug and alcohol addiction in Plymouth District Court than in Springfield and Worcester combined.

“It’s not anecdotal. I’ve sat in the drug courts in my own district and it just tears your heart out to see families coming and pleading with judges to put their children away — adult children, not just small children,” Murray said.

Flanagan said the committee is not working on a specific timetable, but said the recommendations of the committee could turn into standalone legislation or be added to the Senate budget, which is expected to be released in May.

Murray said that a shortage of treatment beds is also an issue, sometimes forcing judges to call emergency rooms to take detox patients because there are no other beds. Male addicts committed under the state’s civil commitment law are sent to the correctional facility in Bridgewater, while women are sent to Framingham. Addiction treatment centers in New Bedford and Brockton also provide treatments in Section 35 cases.

Many people are released after less than 30 days, Murray said. “They get them clean and they’re on the street. Well, they’re right back robbing your house and your house and somebody else’s house or their own house so this is a huge addiction problem we have,” she said.

Massachusetts has the highest rate of heroin users in New England, Murray and Flanagan said, and Murray said if the Senate finds opportunities to work with other states to stop the flow of drugs to Massachusetts it will.

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