Image by Kent Buckley
Earlier this month, the White House announced that the Office of National Drug Control Policy will spend $2.5 million on hiring public health and safety experts to attack the heroin epidemic that is steadily ravaging America.
This is excellent news.
New England is one of the five key areas—along with Appalachia, New York/New Jersey, Philly/Camden and DC/Baltimore—that will receive aid from those hired in this change, and anyone paying attention knows that Massachusetts has been rocked particularly hard by heroin’s new vogue. In April, state police reported 217 deaths from overdose for the first 90 days of the year. That’s more than two lives lost to the needle a day. Next to those statistics, throwing $2.5 million at this issue seems like spitting on a forest fire.
According to the Washington Post, the first to report on this new White House initiative, said budget will cover a full year of pairing “drug intelligence officers” with public health coordinators to track where drugs are coming from, where they’re being cut (with an often lethal additive, fentanyl, a prescription painkiller), and where the junk is coming from. The overall goal is to collect data about trafficking in these hot zones, and to unite health and law enforcement in a new way that treats the epidemic as a matter of public health, rather than as a niche problem.
Which could really work. In the next 5 years.
Detractors of the plan, like small-town cops and doctors, say what’s really needed, perhaps more than anything else, is increased funding to get addicts into rehab, and to educate local law enforcement and emergency room personnel on how to handle overdoses. The White House says this new project will lay the groundwork necessary to dive deep inside the hornet’s nest and spur second chances, but places like Taunton and Lowell need a lot more than more experts working in offices. We’re beyond the point for preventative tactics. Right now we’ve got a stage four smack problem and a $2.5 million research plan. We need surgery, not a $2.5 million physical.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.