Statehouse bill-signing ceremonies are usually perfunctory affairs, a time for back-slapping and self-congratulatory statements.
None of that occurred Monday, when Gov. Charlie Baker put pen to paper on what he called “the most comprehensive measure in the country to combat opioid addiction.”
For the governor, legislative leaders, virtually everyone of their members and Attorney General Maura Healey, this compromise bill constituted an emotional culmination of their efforts to make a significant dent in the fight against opioid addiction that’s already taken thousands of lives and torn asunder countless families across the commonwealth.
The key elements of this bill focus on limiting the supply of painkiller prescriptions, getting substance abusers the help they need, and voluntarily interviewing middle- and high-school students for signs of substance abuse.
The bill — also hailed by the law-enforcement and health-care communities as a solid step forward — accomplished all that it could for now, considering the state’s financial constraints and the limits of our health care system.
Unfortunately, despite the state’s infusion of almost $30 million and the addition of a few hundred more treatment beds, there’s still much to be done before we can even dare to declare this epidemic under control.
And as the governor mentioned, this bill sends a message to all those individuals who shared their heartbreaking stories of attempts to save loved ones from the descent into addiction and fatal overdoses that their struggles made an indelible impression.
These courageous families, who shed the societal shame of drug abuse and brought the scope of this epidemic out of the shadows and into mainstream discourse, deserve our thanks and admiration.
People like Gardner’s Michelle Dunn, who turned the tragedy of losing her daughter Alyssa to drug addiction into a mission of bringing hope and support for recovery to other addicts’ families. She is a group facilitator for Learn to Cope, a peer support network that began in Fitchburg and now meets at Heywood Hospital in Gardner.
Slowly society’s perception of drug abuse has changed. More of us realize it’s a disease that can strike even typical middle-class families with deadly ease.
So we hope — to paraphrase Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the dark days of World War II — that with the passage of this bill, we’ve reached not the beginning of the end of this deadly scourge, but the end of the beginning.