Lowell City Council Meeting: March 3, 2015
City Auditor report on snow and ice costs. City Manager says Governor Baker is lobbying FEMA to reimburse municipalities 100% for snow costs. Nothing definite but city preparing paper work just in case. Councilor Milinazzo asks city to investigate FEMA reimbursement of lost revenue for some businesses. Manager says he’ll check it out.
Discussion of Overdose Deaths
Councilor Mercier commends report on city substance abuse; asks that it be posted online so residents can see it. Manager thanks Frank Singleton and Trinity Ambulance for the report. Mayor Elliott says the numbers are alarming. Asks representatives of Trinity Ambulance who are in attendance for any advice they can share. John Chemely of Trinity says he used to think it was all kids but this report shows the average age of opioid overdoses is 35 years old. Says education in schools won’t do the job. Recommends a committee of care givers and responders (which Councilor Belanger had just recommended). Says EMTs see patient for 30 minutes then the hospital might admit them to a rehab facility, the closest of which are in Boston.
Mayor says he wants to know what to request from the governor. Seems more treatment facilities here is very important. Chemely says every community has similar problems so the solution should be regional. Does say that cities have the highest incidence but it’s in the suburbs too. Mayor asks about repeat offenders. Singleton shows map from Das office that in 2014 there were 145 fatal overdoses of which 103 are from heroin. Singleton says progression to fatal ODs normally is 3 years or more so there’s opportunity for intervention. He also says that Tewksbury State Hospital could become an effective treatment center with sufficient state funding.
Councilor Milinazzo asks if the newly created Lowell Drug Court refers defendants to Tewksbury State Hospital. Councilor Rourke (a probation officer) explains the Drug Court has a mandatory 6 month in patient program followed by 12 months of close supervision. Then you have 6 months of further supervision. Says Councilor Mercier, in her job with the Sheriff’s Department, is involved in this. Says this program has a 90% success rate but nothing works unless the individual wants to change.
Councilor Kennedy asks if this has been a constant problem that is just getting more publicity. Singleton assures him it is not based on statistics going back to 2008. Says whatever is going on, there’s definitely an expansion of this epidemic. Points to people who get injured at work, get hooked on prescription pain killers, then transition to heroin which “is a crapshoot” because you don’t know what is in it. Singleton explains that it’s only recently that medical profession prescribes large amounts of very powerful drugs that were not marketed or given ten or fifteen years ago (this is in response to questions from Councilor Kennedy). Singleton maintains excess prescribing by physicians is a big part of this problem and the state health department is working to change this whole prescribing practice. Says during drug turn in days, people bring in enormous bags of opioids from relatives who may have died. Says elderly might not recognize power of these drugs but kids certainly do. Says high cost of opioids on the street now turning quickly to heroin and that heroin is very potent these days. Singleton says if we had 25 people dying per year in Lowell of meningitis there’d be an uproar but with that many overdose deaths, there’s not nearly as much concern.
Councilor Mercier asks about Narcan, saying that a dose of that revives the addict but if the addict doesn’t seek immediate treatment they can easily OD in a short period of time. Chemely says if the person signs a “refusal” the medical providers can’t treat them. Addicts often “furious” after Narcan dosage because it brings them down from their high. They refuse treatment, go back out to seek more drugs, and quickly OD. Chemely says if there person doesn’t want to deal with addiction, you can’t force them to do it.
In response to Councilor Samaras question, Singleton goes back to over-prescription of opioids by the medical profession, especially dentists. People feel that they are prescription drugs so they must be safe when in fact they are potentially very deadly. There will be a subcommittee meeting on this with many inside city and state government in attendance.
Chief Information Officer Miran Fernandez gives a report. Recommends partnering with Comcast which has an established infrastructure within the city for WIFI. There are hundreds of businesses and thousands of customers of Comcast which means Comcast provides many access points for its wifi system all over the city. If you’re already a Comcast customer, you can log in to Comcast almost anywhere in the city for free.
City Manager and Councilors thank Miran. Councilor Milinazzo suggests referring this to Technology Subcommittee.
Councilor Mercier encourages everyone to fill out city census which was mailed out recently. Enclosed with that were handouts for landlords and for homeowners regarding need for permits for home improvement projects.
Sunday Morning Shooting
Mayor Elliott asks for suspension of rules to inquire of City Manager about Sunday morning shooting. Asks for a report from police on plans to revive police gang unit. Manager recommends an executive session to update the council. Says it was not a random shooting but a targeted attack.
Panhandling Ordinance – No public input, no council discussion (much previous discussion has been had on this item). Passes unanimously.
Appointments –Jim Wilde and Richard Lockhart reappointed to Historic Board.
Subcommittee Reports – City Clerk and Auditor Oversight committee met tonight to consider salary adjustment for city clerk. Committee will seek more information before offering a recommendation.
By Councilor Mercier to obtain glass display cases for exhibiting gifts given present and past mayors on behalf of the city. They should be shared with the public in the Mayor’s Reception Room in appropriate display cases. Manager Murphy says the city has already purchased two display cases and they will be delivered tomorrow.
By Councilor Mercier requests Parks and Recreation Subcommittee convene to discuss naming of “Point Park” within the Hamilton Canal District. This park will house sculpture and art work that will be paid for by donations. Newell Flather, one of the donors, has suggested that the park be given a more appropriate name.
By Councilors Belanger and Rourke to have DPD publicize a “Lowell Week” as a way of assisting businesses that have lost revenue due to the tough winter weather.
By Councilors Belanger and Samaras to organize a festival in April in Cupples Square to celebrate Cambodian New Year.
By Mayor Elliott and Councilor Belanger request report on practice/law on grandfathering of older properties under the city’s zoning ordinance. This arose out of the Branch St fire property and the ability of the owner to rebuild it to its pre-fire capacity under zoning ordinance. Interested in reducing density there.
By Mayor Elliott to refer report on city employee overtime usage to Finance Subcommittee. Says he received call from Lt. Governor this evening saying that Chapter 70 (education) and local aid will see an increase in the governor’s budget which is being released tomorrow.
Meeting adjourns at 8 pm
4 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: March 3, 2015
Would it be possible for the city of Lowell to ban the prescription of pain killer medications that lead to opioid addiction? If all of the city’s medical practitioners are banned from prescribing the drugs that lead to addiction it should severely reduce the population of addicts that are home grown. Someone should compare all the deaths and see if those who have already died were already living in Lowell. It’s a little more difficult for abusers who don’t have a connection to Lowell to make it a source for harder drugs.
Opiate addiction is a serious problem, but I disagree with a Concerned Citizen’s approach. Pain management is also important. There are people who live with chronic pain due to injury or disease. Pain management is also necessary in the short-term for successful post-operative pain or pain from a broken bone. I was recently speaking to someone who had to learn to give herself demerol injections to manage the pain associated with a life-threatening disease she had survived. I guess they could have kept her in a skilled nursing home facility longer or extended the time that she was under the care of visiting nurses, but those are expensive alternatives. With injuries, sometimes the only way someone fully recovers their range of motion is with strong pain medication. I think it is unrealistic and unfair to those with legitimate needs to be unable to get the medication that is critical for them to recover or function. When my relatives were dying at home from cancer. They were concerned with pain, not addiction. I assume that is true for others as well, and concern for those dealing with the side effect of pain management is reflected in the recent passage the use of medical marijuana in Massachusetts. I think it is unfair to make someone who may be dying, or someone who is living with chronic disabling pain, to change their medical provider to one practicing outside of Lowell, to get the medication that they need. Some physicians now ask that patients give them permission to do a pharmacy search, which covers many years, and covers more than the local area. I believe that is designed to prevent people from going to multiple doctors for the same prescription. Perhaps making that a requirement for an opiate prescription would be realistic, than legislating medical practitioners abilities to properly treat patients. I can’t claim to be an expert in pharmacological history, but it seems to me that the availability of medical opiates has become more restrictive over the years. As a child Paregoric, which contained morphine, was a staple in my family’s medicine cabinet. There was a time when one could buy cough medicine with codeine over the counter. One had to sign for it and show ID, but when I was in college, one could buy medication with morphine in it without a prescription.
When looking at the landscape we notice the volcano but fail to notice the slow erosion of the shoreline. In other words we notice opioid addiction, panhandlers, murders etc. but don’t notice the self inflicted, systematic, erosion of Lowell caused by a car oriented development pattern. How, on one hand, can councilors praise the businesses on Branch St and in Cupples Sq then 5 minutes later makes motions that will directly hurt those same businesses? It’s beyond frustrating.
Mayor Elliott and Belanger don’t want a guy whose building burnt down to be able to rebuild at the same scale, but really, it’s all about the parking. They kept referencing density, as if that’s a bad thing, and how allowing the same number of units to be built and not adding parking will hurt the neighborhood.
I think they are confusing density with overcrowding. Density of buildings on land are the some of the most dynamic, wealthy, bustling places on earth. But overcrowding of people in units of dense buildings is definitely a bad thing. I don’t think they understand the difference. The market already told the building owner that he can rent out all the units without providing much parking. And the neighborhood was better off for it. Mandating parking will attract a different type of renter that will shop more at target than on Branch Street. More parking will increase the number of cars in the neighborhood and actually increase congestion.
Why is Wicked Irish downtown? walkable DENSITY
Why are there so many small businesses in the Highlands? walkable DENSITY
Want more and better business in Lowell? Make people oriented places that are walkable, bike friendly, and driveable(but on different terms). Ugh
Then I hear on the radio that UML is backing off its agreement to lease on-street space on Father Morissette Blvd and wants city land on Salem street to add more parking. UML says all the right things but actions speak louder than words. In this recent UML magazine article C. Meehan says the city must connect the campuses to make Lowell more of a walkable and biking city.
Why isn’t UML paying for protected bike lanes between campuses? Why are there so many reserved parking spots for UML dignitaries at University Crossing? How often do those spots sit empty? Shame on them. Maybe if they freed them up they wouldn’t feel the need for more parking on Salem St.
Burlington VT is mentioned as the best college town in America. One reason is the city of Burlington puts the pedestrian first. Another is they properly price and enforce parking. Lowell does neither.
With city officials and UML constantly advocating for more parking the slow erosion of Lowell sadly marches on.
Dick what a superb job ;you are having the conversation ;its s good beginning