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April 2, 2014

Long-term care options seen as gap in drug treatments

METHUEN — A severe shortage of medium- and long-term addiction treatment options is a top obstacle for drug addicts seeking medical help that can wind up preventing or thwarting treatment, local health professionals and addiction treatment advocates told a state Senate panel here.

Professionals in law enforcement, education, health care and addiction treatment, along with parents of addicts and recovering addicts, described institutions overwhelmed by the rise in opiate addiction in Massachusetts, financially unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the range of issues.

They made their case Tuesday to a panel of state senators touring the state to gather ideas for tackling a substance abuse problem about which Gov. Deval Patrick last week declared a public health emergency. The action also comes as officials in Gloucester and elsewhere are looking into how to best expand access to the anti-overdose drug Narcan, which is being carried by a growing number of emergency responders, and is now pegged to be available to addicts’ family members on a prescription basis through the governor’s emergency declaration.

As law enforcement described a spike in sales and public usage and school officials described children of addicts in need of counseling, parents, recovering addicts and health-care professionals said the state’s deficiency of beds for 28-day programs and longer-term addiction treatment means many seeking help are turned away.

Phil Lahey, a Methuen father of a recovering addict, said there are few options to get medium-term treatment, a stabilizing time between the initial detoxification and a long-term residential program.

“After the five-day spin dry, we’re stuck again,” he said.

“That’s the missing piece,” said Nick Costello, executive director of John Ashford Link House, which has residential addiction treatment programs in Salisbury, Newburyport, Amesbury and Gloucester.

“If you take someone out of detox and put them in a halfway house, it’s not going to work,” he said. “They’re not stable. And the problem with a waiting list is if you don’t get them in right away, they’re gone.”

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