On June 6th, West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt announced that he will be joining the thirteen Western Massachusetts cities and towns that are taking a stand against the pharmaceutical drug companies and distributors for their utmost contribution to the opioid epidemic our state and country is currently facing. The press conference took place that morning in the Justin Morgan Auditorium in West Springfield. Mayor Reichelt stood alongside the town’s Police and Fire Chiefs as well as Mayor Bill Martin of Greenfield, Mayor William Sapelli of Agawam, Mayor Tom Bernard of North Adams, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle of Easthampton and a representative of the Mayor of Pittsfield.
During the conference, the officials from each town spoke specifically about how the overprescription of opioid pain medications and the lack of information regarding their consequences has affected their community and evolved into something greater than just the abuse of pills. The nationwide heroin epidemic has been traced back to the excessive exposure to opioid pain medications, as heroin is the cheaper and more available option to cure withdrawal symptoms. Between January and March of 2018, more than 500 Massachusetts residents have had fatal overdoses. These numbers have spiraled out of control over the past few years, and town officials are ready to seek change. “It’s terrible. We want it to stop… but we know for sure it hasn’t,” stated Interim Police Chief Brian Duffy.
The Massachusetts Opioid Litigation Attorneys (MOLA) are implementing a federal lawsuit against the pharmaceutical manufacturers of prescription opioids. This group is made up of several law firms from Eastern Massachusetts that are rallying support from Massachusetts residents and cities to fight against some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Communities are demanding said companies to be held accountable for this “public health crisis,” as stated by LaChapelle, as their “deliberate misinformation of side effects” has led to drastic addiction and fatality rates throughout the state and the nation. This has to do with the opioid companies misinforming physicians about the side effects of these medications as well as making the side effects and addiction risk seem less severe than they really are. Over 100 Massachusetts communities have agreed to stand with MOLA.
Another reason that towns are pushing for manufacturers and distributors to take accountability for this epidemic is because of the stress of resources and responsibility that is put on our communities. According to Fire Deputy Bill Flerity, ⅓ of on-duty staff reports to overdose calls. The overdose reversing drug naloxone, dubbed narcan, has been the latest lifesaver in communities over the last few years. First responders have carried this remedy in their vehicles, and moving forward, teachers in the Agawam Public School system will be having narcan on-hand in schools. The pressure that this crisis is putting on communities is going so much deeper than to the families and friends of the addicts: it’s now burdening teachers, who did not sign up to reverse the effects of an overdose at any given moment in their own classroom.
In addition, a Western Massachusetts opioid addiction task force has been in full swing since 2013. As stated on their website, their goal is to “...tackle the serious problem of heroin and prescription drug addiction in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region of Massachusetts.” This group offers information and prevention tactics while overall attempting to improve the quality of life in these communities.
“It is time for those who created this crisis, pay for this crisis,” declared J. Tucker Merrigan of Sweeney Merrigan Law and a member of the MOLA team. A trial date for this lawsuit is in the works.