Widening the assault on opioid abuse

The city of Boston is preparing to open a new front in the widening offensive against the scourge of opioid addiction and overdoses. Mayor Martin Walsh said this week that he will invite attorneys and public health experts to respond to a Request for Information next month as his administration weighs legal action against pharmaceutical companies that he blames for flooding the market with lethal medications.

“I strongly believe that the pharmaceutical industry is the main offender and sustainer of the opioid crisis,” Walsh said in a remarkably blunt statement released by his office this week. “Their distribution and marketing of narcotics is unforgivingly reckless, causing irreversible devastation to our families and significant damages to cities nationwide.”

On Wednesday, two of the city’s four at-large councillors— Dorchester’s Ayanna Pressley and Annissa Essaibi-George– signaled support for such legal action. They plan a hearing to review the results of Walsh’s RFI.

Essaibi-George called the opioid epidemic “the most pressing public health challenge of this generation.” She added: “Pharmaceutical companies should be held responsible for the unethical practices that contributed to this crisis.”

Pressley agreed, adding that she’s encouraged by the collective approach to treating the crisis as a public health issue, rather than criminalizing victims.

“For many of us who struggled as our loved ones and friends fell victim to the crack epidemic in the 1980s and were met with criminalization, I am encouraged by our collective response to treat this epidemic for what it is— a public health issue,” said Pressley.

The RFI will be issued on Mon., Feb. 5. Walsh’s office says city attorneys have already begun meeting with law firms to prepare for “potential litigation.”

In his State of the City address, Walsh pledged to rebuild the bridge to Long Island and invest in “a comprehensive, long-term recovery facility” on the city-owned island. Clearly, the city is tracking toward seeking a judgment against the drug companies that will help defray the costs of abuse and recovery and emergency services— much of it absorbed by the city.

Boston’s moves come as Gov. Charlie Baker has unveiled his latest comprehensive plan for attacking the problem statewide. A central element of Baker’s proposal would authorize doctors to commit addicts against their will for up to 72 hours of treatment, a potentially life-saving order that did not make it into the last state opioid law passed in 2016.

Baker says it’s time to revisit the idea— and Walsh agrees. “I think sometimes the 72-hour notice might give a little clarity to the person that might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol in a severe way and also there’s an opportunity there to get them into treatment,” the mayor told reporters last week.

We agree. Let’s use every tool at our disposal.

A story in last week’s Reporter about a homelessness prevention program that offers financial assistance to eligible households misidentified the organization that administers the program. The correct name of the organization that runs the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program is Metro Housing/Boston, a non-profit that is not affiliated with the state government.
The article also incorrectly named a RAFT case manager, who was quoted discussing the program. The correct name is Darnell Wallace. The Reporter regrets the errors.