By Seth Daniel
Appearing in the South End at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless (BHCH) in the heart of Methadone Mile on Wednesday, Nov. 23, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey called for a major appropriation of federal monies to treat the opiate addiction crisis in Massachusetts and around the country.
“I’m calling for $1 billion to be approved by Congress before we adjourn for the year that will go towards treatment of this opiate crisis,” he said. “We can’t continue to avoid this…My calls and those of other senators have been ignored for a year and a half. All our proposals have been rejected. We’re here on the Methadone Mile where we on the front door of this epidemic. There’s another mile in Washington. It’s the money mile and it’s called Big Pharma where they have not wanted education on this for far too long. This is an urgent problem. We’re standing in a place of refuge for many of these folks – our neighbors and our friends who never thought they would have this problem.”
Markey leaned heavily on statistics during his press conference, noting that Massachusetts is facing the worst of the crisis.
He said in 2013 there were 900 opiate overdose deaths, and 1,400 in 2014. By 2015, there were 1,750 opiate overdose deaths. This year, he said, they are estimating there will be more than 2,000 deaths.
He added that 57 percent of those that died in 2015 had Fentanyl in their systems.
“We are number one; we are at the top,” he said. “We have an epidemic here in Massachusetts and in the country.”
Dr. Jessie Gaeta, chief medical officer for BHCH, said they often have to save up to six people a week from overdose in their own building. She said resources are scarce and the problem is immense.
“The people who live and work and sleep in this neighborhood…know how scarce resources are for substance abuse and they need to do more now in Congress,” she said.
“We need help from our federal government,” she continued. “Most people want help now. They are looking for services. There simply just isn’t enough capacity in the system for everyone.”
Markey said he made the call because he believes that the next two or three weeks, before Congress wraps up its session, will be extremely critical due to the fact that the incoming Republican Congress and Republican president may not be favorable to any types of new spending, even on opiate treatment.
“This is the number one need in our country and the number one most ignored issue in our county,” he said. “The word from Republicans is they will vote against any spending programs, even for a health emergency like this opiate epidemic…I think our best chance is in the next two weeks in this Congress before it concludes its business.”