By Nick Neville
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was originally published in The Telegram.
BOSTON – Kim Krawczyk knows the dangers of the nation’s opioid crisis. The Marlboro native struggled with opioid addiction for 30 years and lost all her primary memories to this epidemic, but now works with the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery to advocate for better access to treatment around the state.
Ms. Krawczyk, along with dozens of others in recovery, gathered at the 15th annual MOAR public policy forum on Monday night at Faulkner Hospital to meet with legislators and discuss on how the state can move forward on this issue.
“We’re not there yet,” said MOAR Executive Director Maryanne Frangules. “We’re making very good progress and we thank the governor and the policymakers for their leadership, but I think we all know we have to keep moving on because we need the foundation and the continuity of care so it stays alive and everybody respect the need for good care.”
While the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced in February that opioid-related deaths dropped 8 percent from 2016 to 2017 – the first time a yearly decline has been reported since 2010 – the number of opioid overdose deaths in the state has soared more than 300 percent in the last eight years.
A national effort to address this crisis is ongoing, and President Donald Trump is expected to visit New Hampshire on Monday to discuss solutions.
At the state level, Gov. Charlie Baker’s CARE Act builds on 2016 legislation to combat the epidemic and would take concrete steps to improve access to treatment and establish a commission to review credentialing procedures for recovery coaches.
Ms. Krawczyk is one of these recovery coaches with MOAR who helps provide guidance and support to others in recovery. Rep. Elizabeth Malia, D-Jamaica Plain, who is also in long-term recovery, told attendees that Mr. Baker’s bill is an important step, but it’s not enough.
“There’s an old saying about the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it’s not enough to have good intentions,” she said. “We have to figure out what works, how to implement it, and how to keep it alive. I think the governor’s CARE Act, which includes a couple of things that I have special legislation already filed for but that I am supporting – is going to raise the profile of recovery coaches as important resources. We know that this works.”
Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Webster, said the CARE Act is “essential” to get medical help for those struggling with addiction. At office hours he holds about every two weeks, he said it’s a constant concern for his constituents.
“Every time I do this, I have some family member show up concerned about a child, a brother, a family member or sometimes even just a friend because they can’t get into services to address the back end of the addiction,” he said.
According to the DPH, Worcester County suffered 260 opioid-related deaths in 2016, the third-most. To address this, Mr. Fattman has successfully called on an additional $100,000 in each yearly budget to support a local intervention program for people of all ages run by Amy Leone, owner of Community Impact Inc. and a licensed mental health counselor.
In addition to the CARE Act, MOAR is among the organizations in the Massachusetts Coalition for Addiction Services advocating for increased funding in the fiscal 2019 budget to expand access to the Massachusetts Access to Recovery program and $3.5 million to create five new recovery centers in communities across the state.
MA-ATR has been funded through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant since 2010, but funding is slated to end this September unless Congress appropriates another year of funding.
MA-ATR services include care coordinator help, recovery planning, basic needs financial support vouchers and employment training. MCAS is seeking an additional $1.5 million in state funding for the program.
The state currently funds 10 peer recovery centers, which allow participants to learn new skills and mentor others with shared experience, but MOAR believes more are necessary.
Ms. Krawczyk said attending Everyday Miracles Peer Recovery Center in Worcester and the Recovery Connection in Marlboro helped stabilize her. Athena Hadden, who was the initial program director for Everyday Miracles and now serves as the MOAR regional coordinator for Western and Central Massachusetts, echoed Ms. Krawcyzk’s sentiments.
“They saved my life,” Ms. Hadden said. “They gave me somewhere safe to be and they gave me purpose.”
Both chambers of the Legislature are debating their versions of a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that MOAR hopes would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug cases. Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, and Rep. Claire Cronin, D-Easton, lead conference committee efforts, which have been underway for over 100 days.
“What’s really happened in the past half dozen years now has been a sustained effort by people all across the state coming into the Statehouse and talking out the need for criminal justice reform,” Mr. Brownsberger said, “the need for an approach that’s about lifting people up instead of locking people up.”
Mr. Brownsberger told advocates Monday that he’s hopeful action will be taken in the “very, very near future.” In conversations with members of the conference committee, Mr. Fattman said movement is expected early to mid-April.
In the midst of these legislative efforts, Ms. Hadden believes events like Monday’s MOAR advocacy dialogue help to address the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery.
“Recovery is something really positive,” she said.
“Just even saying that – I’m a woman in recovery, I’ve struggled, I was a low bottom addict and for me to live the life that I live, I mean I could get tears in my eyes,” Ms. Krawcyzk added.