Rep. Kevin Kuros Talks with BHS Students About Addiction
May 28, 2016 05:00PM ● Published by Marjorie Turner Hollman
Shown (L-R): BHS teachers Sarah Houle and Ben Roy with Rep. Kevin Kuros
This spring, Bellingham High School students in Sarah Houle’s social studies class wrote to State Senator Ryan Fattman and Representative Kevin Kuros expressing their concern about the state’s growing opioid epidemic.
Each student in Houle’s class wrote to each state official. Houle said, “I gave the students guidance to write what they were concerned about pertaining to the opioid epidemic. I also helped them with the structure of their letters, but otherwise what they wrote was all theirs.”
Representative Kuros responded with his own request—that he be allowed to speak to the students in person about their concerns. Kuros and an aide arrived on April 29. Standing in the BHS auditorium, Kuros held the students’ letters, letting the students know that their letters had found an audience.
“I want to tell you,” he began, “that one of the first things I noticed was how neatly your letters were formatted—appearances do matter. I was impressed with all the thought and effort and research that went into these letters, relative to the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.”
Kuros engaged the students, asking what came to mind when they thought about the word “addict.” Students offered words such as “homeless,” “dirty,” “unhealthy-looking,” and more. Kuros responded, “Not true. Many addicts look just like me or you.”
He then explained that, in the past, “cancer” was a word spoken about in hushed tones, something too terrible to talk about. “But we were able to remove the stigma of cancer. Talking about it and removing the stigma helped move things forward, encouraged research. We got monies dedicated to it. Removing stigma facilitates change.”
He explained that Governor Charlie Baker is determined to remove the stigma of addiction as well, by helping people talk about it. “Rather than a stigma, addiction is a health problem that needs treatment,” Kuros said. He went on to tell several stories that he has heard, of how addiction has affected families torn apart, destroyed by opioid addiction.
Kuros then discussed the passing of a recent law strengthening restrictions on physicians’ prescribing practices for opioids. The new law sets a limit of an initial 7-day supply of medication for certain types of painkillers, with a provision to exempt those suffering from cancer, chronic pain, and other such diagnoses. The law also addresses emergency room procedures. Kuros explained, “If you come into the emergency room because of a suicide attempt, you can be held in protective custody for up to three days for an initial evaluation. But prior to this law, if you had overdosed and received Narcan, which counteracts the effects of heroin, the hospital had to release you.” Now, the physician can order a 24-hour psychiatric evaluation.
Students had questions for Kuros about Narcan, or naloxone. They wanted to know why it isn’t more widely available. Kuros explained that in Rhode Island it is widely available, but because of differing regulations in Massachusetts, the availability depends on whether each individual pharmacy is willing to fill out the required paperwork to make it freely available. “This is why I wrote an amendment to the bill that passed in March,” he said. “The amendment would create this same system in Massachusetts, called Collaborative Practice. It would allow each pharmacy chain to fill out the required paperwork once, rather than each store having to complete it.”
Kuros then explained that his amendment didn’t make it through the committee that reconciles House and Senate versions of bills. “But now, we’ve worked closely with Senator Ryan Fattman’s office to ensure that the amendment is consistent in both the Senate and House, so the amendment cannot be removed,” Kuros explained.
When Kuros offered an opportunity for questions, one of the first was about legalization of marijuana. Kuros said that a delegation of twelve of his senate colleagues flew out to Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been totally legalized. “Most of these people who went were predisposed in favor of legalization,” Kuros said. “They talked to as many people as they could find, on all sides of the issue; and when they returned, all but one of the group had changed their minds about this issue. They came back firmly opposed. One of the factors they cited was increased social costs—medical costs and other concerns.”
To conclude, Kuros discussed the community forum on opioid abuse that he has been involved with in Uxbridge, where they had representatives from the fire and police departments, the schools, the town manager, counselors, and a recovering addict. He noted too that Franklin has already begun a series of forums on the topic, and said he would welcome working with interested parties in Bellingham to offer a similar forum here. “When I got elected in 2010, little did I think I would be dealing with an opioid epidemic,” Kuros said.
After the program, Houle said she had thought she could get her students engaged on the topic of the presidential elections, but found them getting discouraged after “their” candidates were all eliminated from the competition. She continued, “Then I ‘stole’ the idea from Ben [fellow Bellingham teacher Ben Roy] about focusing on the opioid epidemic, and the students became much more involved.”
Indeed, for a Friday afternoon, nearing the end of the school year, with spring weather beckoning, the students in this gathering were extremely focused, interested, and concerned. Perhaps one of the most important lessons they may have taken away from this event was that legislators are real people, they read their mail, and they want to hear from their constituents.