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But while naloxone does save lives, it doesn’t treat addiction or address its roots.
“I think Narcan is like a Band-Aid,” said Cathy Gilmore, 50. “It works. Obviously we need it.” But Gilmore, whose son Anthony died in September at age 27 after more than a decade of addiction, is pushing for more.
Anthony was fatally struck by a train less than an hour after being released from a hospital while still intoxicated with heroin. Now his mother is working with her state representative from Franklin, Mass., on a bill that would require hospitals to hold patients who are intoxicated on opioids until they’ve sobered up.
Beyond the immediate danger of excessive intoxication, public health professionals, addicts and their family members say there’s a shortage of in-patient detox and rehab facilities. When addicts are ready to check in to rehab, “those beds are often not there,” said Gaeta, “or the waiting list for those beds is often weeks long.”
Gilmore, whose husband also died while high on heroin, said Anthony struggled to get sufficient treatment. “A seven-day treatment isn’t going to work,” she said, but longer treatment has become harder to come by. “What is a drug addict going to do when he’s high on heroin and they tell you, ‘You can’t come today’?” she said.
Hamlin, who said he went through more than a dozen detox programs, said short stays don’t cut it. But cost-conscious insurance companies have cut back on coverage, and Hamlin said the norm has gone from 28-day inpatient treatment to six days or less. Often, drug dealers park outside of rehab facilities, and addicts begin using as soon as they step out the door.
In addition to stepped-up police efforts, many governments across the region are either considering or implementing measures to grant amnesty to people who call in overdoses to 911 and to compile statewide databases that will prevent addicts and dealers from doctor-shopping for pills. In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed tighter guidelines for prescribing painkillers that could come into effect this year.
Both Hamlin and Gilmore said the epidemic has festered for so long in part because the shame of addiction and the isolation of suburban living has prevented it from being dealt with out in the open.
“Back in the day, everyone watched each other’s kids,” said Gilmore, who grew up in Boston before moving her young family out to the suburbs two decades ago. “Everyone knew your business. You couldn’t get away with stuff.
“I don’t see that anymore,” she said. “A lot of people don’t care. It’s not their kid.”
Hamlin said that families often treat addiction as a “dirty secret,” which prevents communities from coming together to confront it. The most important solution for addressing the root of the problem, he said, is “awareness.”