By Seth Daniel
One of the most common routes to heroin addiction is through the use of prescription medication, often pills received by perfectly legal means at the local pharmacy from a registered pharmacist.
It’s with that knowledge that several local pharmacists and those studying to become pharmacists have decided to be part of the solution in reaching out to those suffering on Methadone Mile. With a table set up on Melnea Cass Boulevard on a cold morning last Dec. 15, the pharmacists from End Mass Overdose sent out street outreach teams and other helpers in an event they call Miracle on Recovery Road.
Allison Burns, a doctor of pharmacy, leads the non-profit organization and said she and many pharmacists now understand that over prescribing medications is part of the problem in the opioid crisis.
“The doctors might be prescribing these pills, but they’re not dispensing them,” said Burns while standing on the side of Melnea Cass. “The pharmacists are. I kind of think we’re trying to change that. We saw these prescriptions coming in and we still filled them. I think we turned a blind eye and just filled order. We shouldn’t have. I want all the people filling these prescriptions to see this place and meet the people who are here (and are addicted)…We know that 45 percent of heroin addiction starts with a legitimate prescription, so we want to get right down onto the street with the people who are suffering.”
Burns said she had a brother who became addicted and is now in recovery, which pushed her to start the organization.
But beyond that, it was when she was over prescribed pain pills for a military injury that opened her eyes. Serving in the Air Force, she blew out her hips in an accident. In treating the pain associated with the injury and her surgery, she felt she was given too many OxyCodone pills. She also saw many other veterans who were in the same boat, and were becoming addicted because of it.
“ I felt I was over prescribed OxyCodone after my injury, and I saw a lot of vets who were becoming addicted to these pills because of being over prescribed,” she said. “I saw that it was affecting men and women. It wasn’t just a city issue either. It was everyone’s issue.”
Burns studied to become a pharmacist after that incident and now works professionally at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in the pharmacy. She also teaches as an adjunct professor at the Mass College of Pharmacy.
Out on the streets Dec. 15, Burns said it was their first official event on Methadone Mile, which she chooses to call Recovery Road. She said they wanted to reach out to folks who are in the area and want information, including professional advice on what happens when you combine drugs.
“We won’t judge you,” she said. “People don’t always know what will happen when they mix these drugs and many times they are mixing them.”
Burns said they aren’t competing with the state and City resources that have been deployed to the area in the last year, but rather complementing those services and getting people who dispense the pills to the heart of the problem.
“It’s not going to be one person with one big answer that is going to come and solve this,” she said. “It’s going to take everyone who is involved, including pharmacists.”