This morning I attended the Inaugural Lowell House, Inc. “Celebrating Recovery” Breakfast at the UML/Inn & Conference Center. The nearly 400 attendees heard Lowell House CEO Bill Garr and from both Governor Charlie Baker and Department of Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel.
Garr made it clear that the Lowell House goal was to sustain recovery across a lifetime and that this morning was also about the power of successful recovery. A brief video highlighted the successful sobriety of a Junior and Ilse and their testimony about their motivation. They attended with their 7-month old daughter Elizabeth.
Mayor Rodney Elliott with Lowell House CEO Bill Garr and Governor Baker
Mayor Rodney Elliott congratulated the Governor for his leadership and support in the face of the opioid crisis in Greater Lowell and Massachusetts. Dr. Bharel noted that September was “National Recovery Month” meant to highlight “suffering and challenges but also hope and recovery. This opioid crisis is an epidemic… the biggest crisis in recent memory.” She talked about the four areas of concern and action for the administration ~ prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery. In her introduction, she said that we were lucky to have a leader like the Governor.
Charlie Baker knows Lowell and knew this audience so not surprising that he led his remarks with a jesting reference to the absent Rep Nangle. Then without notes he very effectively hit the right notes about the crisis – first telling a family story about being prescribed meds and then zeroing-in on the stat that 80% of heroin addicts started with a prescription. There has been a 400% increase over twelve years in the number of prescriptions. He told of his recent meeting with medical school leaders and the agreed need for training in addiction and writing prescriptions. Then looking directly at the legislators sitting in front him he strongly encouraged them and their colleagues to incorporate his request for $29 million for treatment and recovery in the supplemental budget – and even more if they wanted. He talked about the need for space not in prisons – as is now – but at the State Hospital in Taunton for women under a Section 35/ involuntary treatment order. He spoke of the failure felt by all in healthcare when people spin in and out of detox perhaps 2, 3 or 5 times a year saying that addiction while somewhat different needs to be handled like other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. In the brief Q & A, he agreed with DA Marian Ryan that partnerships are important and the partnerships here and elsewhere encompass huge groups like those in criminal justice/law enforcement, medicine, the schools, coaching… he advocates more addiction training. A final thrust was towards having a “czar” (although he was loathe to use that term) – someone in Public Health skilled in behavioral health and as an addiction specialist to work with all stakeholders (my word) to find models that work and that the administration and stakeholders can support. The Governor described himself as a healthcare person – and it showed with his command of the problem and his sincere commitment to deal directly to help.
Community Teamwork(CTI) Executive Director Karen Frederick speaks with the Governor
Among the attendees were: State Senator Eileen Donoghue and Barbara L’Italien, Rep Rady Mom, the Sheriff, the DA, former State Senator Steven Panagiotakos, the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, Superintendent of Schools, Lowell City Councillors Rita Mercier and Corey Belanger, School Committeeman Conway, the Director of Tewksbury State Hospital, staff and board members from UMass Lowell, MCC, CTI, other social service agencies, Trinity Ambulance and many others in the banking and business community. This was an important visit by Governor Baker.