On October 2, 2017, the New Bedford Whaling Museum hosted “Finding Solutions: a Community Opioid Forum.” The forum was intended to provide an opportunity for law enforcement officials, medical workers, and community members to converse about the problem of opioid addiction in Massachusetts. The keynote speaker, Mr. Michael Botticelli, is the current Executive Director of the new Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center. As a person who struggled with addiction himself, Mr. Botticelli talked about significant challenges to recovery, and stated that the ultimate cure to the addiction crisis is community. He identified multiple factors which helped create the problem of opioid addiction, and ways that the same entities who helped create the problem can help solve it.
One of the sources of the problem which may also provide solution is healthcare workers. Mr. Botticelli described the impact of the prescription drug market on today’s opioid crisis with a stark statistic: in 2012, enough opioid-based pain medications were prescribed to provide every American with a bottle. Today, however, safe prescribing practices and use of non-addictive alternative pain management methods have significantly cut down the amount of opioid medications being prescribed. Aside from these safer prescription practices, Mr. Botticelli advocated for earlier intervention at hospitals and by healthcare providers when it becomes apparent that a patient has a drug or alcohol addiction disorder. He stated that the idea of reaching “rock bottom” before treatment can begin is part of the problem. Healthcare workers should strive to identify problems before there is an overdose to provide more effective treatment and potentially diversion from the criminal justice system. Mr. Botticelli said that a person with hypertension is not told to wait for treatment until she has a heart attack, so waiting for people with drug addiction disorders to reach their most severe state prior to treatment is hypocritical.
The failure of the criminal justice system to provide treatment options in lieu of incarceration has also exacerbated the opioid crisis, but Mr. Botticelli stated that the criminal justice system is also the most common source of referrals for the treatment of drug addiction disorders. Although the New Bedford Opioid forum focused largely on the diligent work of local law enforcement and healthcare workers, it is critical for legal minds to remember that they can make a difference too. Many of the issues faced by people with addiction disorders are the everyday issues of marginalized populations, but exacerbated by a chemical dependence. As zealous advocates, lawyers should remember that beyond preventing their clients from succumbing to eviction, criminal liability, and other legal maladies, they are also in a unique position to be able to determine whether their client has a drug or alcohol problem. Zealous advocacy is not merely solving a client’s discrete legal problem, but helping the client find solutions to remain out of trouble.
In sum, Mr. Botticelli is one hundred percent on point in emphasizing community. Drug addiction disorders have impacted New England for long enough. Every person in nearly every profession can find a way to make a positive change, even if it’s only in their attitude.