“That was not a policy area for me going into the legislature, but it is now a strong policy area for me while in the Legislature.”
Sen. Joan Lovely said when she first entered the Legislature in 2013, she thought she knew what was going on in the lives of today’s kids.
That was until she was appointed as chairman of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery.
“I thought, as a mom, I really knew. I raised three kids,” she told guests at a Greater Beverly Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday morning. “I know what kids are into… but I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, until I chaired this committee.”
Lovely spoke to about 30 chamber representatives at an event hosted by Recovery Centers of America, the substance use recovery center on Lindall Street in Danvers. She addressed the ongoing opioid epidemic, as well as what is being done at the state and local levels to address it.
“They’re exposed today, more than ever, to things on the street,” she said.
Just over 300 people died of an overdose last year in Essex County, according to the most recent state Department of Public Health statistics. Nine Danvers residents died from an overdose, according to the same report.
When she started out on the committee, Lovely continued, she was “awestruck” at what she came to learn about the reality of substance use disorders.
“That was not a policy area for me going into the Legislature, but it is now a strong policy area for me while in the Legislature,” she said.
Lovely, whose district includes Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Salem and Topsfield, said she continues to support legislation that puts more resources into treatment for individuals with substance use disorders. She’s also a member of the Special Senate Committee on Opioid Addiction Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Options.
Lovely has sponsored a number of bills designed to combat the opioid epidemic by expanding access to mental health services (S.1108), and removing barriers to practice for psychiatric clinical nurse specialists (S.1109).
She said the Legislature also continues to look at how prescribers prescribe opiate pain killers.
Lovely highlighted Gov. Charlie Baker’s opioid bill, which would allow doctors to treat and then hold patients up to three days before releasing them.
“Sometimes they just aren’t ready [for treatment], and they may never be ready,” Lovely said. “But we want to keep people alive.”
She also said the state budget, currently in Conference Committee, aims to put more resources into treatment.
At the local level, Lovely commended the work of community organizations working to combat the epidemic, such as DanversCARES in Danvers, the Tritown Council, and Peabody Collaborative, as well as the work of first responders — often the ones on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, and the four recovery high schools.
Danvers Officer Stephen Baldassare, who was at Wednesday morning’s event, said he’s seen the impact of the work done by lawmakers such as Lovely, especially over the last five years.
But he added that even with those signs of progress, “it’s still a major issue,” and “the more we can educate, the better.”
He pointed to programs put on recently by DanversCARES, such as In Plain Sight, an awareness event for parents last fall.
“The schools, the Police Department and Joan have done a great job being on the same page,” Baldassare said.
Laura Ames, CEO of the RCA facility in Danvers, said she appreciates Lovely’s ongoing support for recovery efforts in Massachusetts.
“It’s a long road for some people,” she said. “It’s like you said — just because you go into treatment one time, doesn’t mean you’re all set to go. Sometimes it takes several times before it sticks.”