What's New

Opioid Addiction and Death Our Number One Pubic Health Crisis
Posted: 11/1/2018

When it comes to our opioid crisis, we must do more to support and expand treatment and rehabilitation programs, rather than focusing predominately on criminalization. Irresponsible drug-makers and negligent doctors must be held accountable as well. Overdose-reversing treatments need to be made even more accessible. 


These policies will be my principal priorities, and I plan to introduce legislation on all of them in my first year in office. We also need to take a hard look at the unintended consequences of our present response and the underlying inputs that set our people on a path to addiction and premature death.


Admittedly, governments have struggled with controlling opiates for centuries. This is not a new phenomenon in society. 

Our nation lost tens of thousands of lives to opioids last year, including 2,000 deaths in the Commonwealth alone. Year-to-date data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health indicate we will tragically do it again. This is our number one public health crisis in the Commonwealth, and in particular here on the Cape. Some progress is being made in certain pockets. But not nearly enough is being done. 

We have a high percentage of workers with repetitive use injuries. They present legitimate symptoms and know real pain. They go to a doctor, get a prescription and developed an addiction - a lethal addiction aided and abetted by irresponsible drug-makers and negligent doctors who break their Hippocratic Oath and pursue personal gain over patient care. 

 As a combat veteran of our long wars in the Middle East, I know firsthand the ways in which my fellow veteran will try and seek relief - for both physical and psychic pain. 

As a trained first-responder, I understand the need to make sure our emergency services personnel have the proper means at hand to counter this threat to our neighbors. In fact, I carry Narcan in my car to help reverse a lethal overdose - a clear potential event to be prepared for. 

A pragmatic, energetic, focused way forward:

In the Army, it was clear to me that we were never going to kill our way out of the terrorism problem overseas. And back here at home, we will not incarcerate ourselves out of this challenge. 

We need beds and treatment. Urgently. 

We need to take a wider purview of all the possible tools at our disposal. Alternative pain management is critical to solving this challenge: medicineassisted treatment in prisons, Calmer Choice in our classrooms, medical marijuana as an alternative exit ramp drug from opioid dependency. 

Drug dealers need to be held accountable - this is a public safety issue of immense proportion. And our definition of drug-dealer needs to include the special interests that enabled the cataclysmic growth in the legal poisoning of our residents: profiteering pharmaceutical companies and unethical doctors. 

We need to attract a world-class facility for treating and studying this scourge.

We need to work toward parity between mental health and physical health. Our cultural stigma regarding mental health stubbornly remains.  

We need to make overdose-reversing treatment supplies and training readily available throughout our cities, towns, and villages.  

But we will never make any progress if we don't get to the root causes of opioid addiction. Many of our neighbors are not reaching their full potential; many are working for low wages on hard jobs in high-cost communities. There are a number of economic inputs that feed abuse and social dislocation. Presently, far too many among us feel alienated from each other in our communities, and we focus much more on what separates us than what binds us closely together. 

Until we pragmatically pursue new horizons in our study of the human brain, we will continue to hit societal constraints in dealing with the many issues of mental health. Think Alzheimer’s, dementia, ADHD, addiction, depression, autism, suicide and gun violence - all our families have known these struggles.  

We have done pretty well in addressing some of these challenges. But I know you will agree that good enough, is not good enough anymore. It is time for the radical breakthroughs necessary to advance our health in ways that can unleash individual and our collective potential leading to better life outcomes across every sector of our communities. Those interested in a pragmatic, energetic, focused public policy response to this challenge will find an ally in me. 

For further consideration:

We need to remain compassionate for the many authentic patients who rely on opioid treatment for managing their debilitating pain. The electoral process brings me into contact with neighbors from across the spectrum and I have been hearing more and more about a dramatic facet of the opioid crisis. 

For many patients there is a sense that the response to this public health challenge has created an over-correction that creates a number of undue burdens in their pursuit of pain relief: repeat doctor visits, longer waits, duplicate form filings, and a cultural guilt about opioid dependency. Essentially, doctors and pain clinics are loathed to be perceived as malign forces in this space, while the new laws they follow cripple their patients' access to care.  

This undue onus on these genuine pain patients only serves to prolong and deepen their dependency. This is an under-represented flip-side of the opioid story; the clamp-down is having the perverse effect of potentially slowly killing patients who, over time, lose their will to put up with all the obstacles to care and lose their mobility then hope for pain-free days. This is another part of this sprawling challenge that needs to be addressed. 

I will make it my principal priority on Beacon Hill to fight the stigma of drug addiction and focus on healing.

Paul Cusack
Army Ranger Veteran, Fisherman
State Representative Candidate 
For Second Barnstable