Governor Baker recently cut important programs, including approximately $6 million in reductions to homelessness and housing, $1.9 million in cuts to substance abuse prevention programming, $900,000 in cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services, and $330,000 in cuts to Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (Hep C awareness, treatment and prevention)

FY17 Budget Line Items:
4512-0103 – HIV/AIDS Prevention Treatment and Service – Cut $917,485 from the budget.
4512-0200 – Bureau of Substance Abuse Services – Cut $1,929,000 from the budget.
4513-1111 – Health Promotion and Disease Prevention – Cut $330,000 from the budget.
4512-0225 Compulsive Behavior Treatment Program – Cut $500,000 from the budget.
4513-1000 – Family Health Services – Cut $181,802 from the budget.
Eliminated the Public Health Evaluations Grant – 4590-0081

What’s most disturbing about these cuts is that while Governor Baker is working to reduce or eliminate these vital resources, he added a $4M “Supplemental Appropriation” to fund the investigation for the imcompetence of a state laboratory worker who mishandled evidence.

Side note for Billerica Residents: These and many others are the same initiatives that State Rep. Marc Lombardo voted against prior to the election.

Why are these cuts important to the constituents of the Commonwealth?

The Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS) oversees the substance abuse and gambling prevention and treatment services in the Commonwealth. Responsibilities include: licensing programs and counselors; funding and monitoring prevention and treatment services; providing access to treatment for the indigent and uninsured; developing and implementing policies and programs; and tracking substance abuse trends in the state.

Peer to Peer Recovery Support Centers are funded through BSAS and I believe that we need a Peer Recovery Support Center in my town. First, there are not enough Young People in Recovery (YPR) programs or meetings and the fatality rate we are experiencing is directly related to not having enough community support for the “20 something” demographic who are already experiencing substance use disorder. A lot of work is being done on the education and prevention levels but we are missing a very important piece here in Billerica and across the state for those who are already addicted and seeking long term treatment and community support.

A peer recovery support center is a vital resource where those who are in recovery can go to get help with life skills, job application, interviewing skills, help with applying for resources, to engage in healthy sober activities and provides them with a sense of responsibility to themselves, each other and the community. It provides them with a purpose to continue on in their recovery.

Cuts to the BSAS funding put these centers and many other initiatives in jeapordy of being able to continue operations or to expand the programs in high impact areas.

Potential for an HIV Outbreak – Indiana’s Governor took a hard line and cut funding to needle exchange program and other HIV Prevention and Treatment models and their state had an epidemic outbreak of new HIV infection in 2015.

An excerpt from USA Today: “Austin, with a population of 4,200, now has a higher incidence of HIV than “any country in sub-Saharan Africa,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden. “They’ve had more people infected with HIV through injection drug use than in all of New York City last year.””

Treating those infected in the outbreak will cost $100 million, and we already know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Hepatitis C – Newly reported cases of HCV infection for individuals between the ages of 18-25 has increased significantly.

The surveillance data released points to a new wave of hepatitis C infections among people who inject drugs. Acute cases of hepatitis C infection have more than doubled since 2010. The new cases are predominantly among young, white individuals with a history of injection drug use, living in rural and suburban areas of the Midwest and Eastern United States.

I can tell you that more than half of the individuals I work with are HCV positive with either Geno Types 1 and 3 – Geno Type 1 being the most prevalent.

Hep C is a virus that attacks the most vital organ, the liver. Over time it creates scar tissue and the liver eventually fails. The mortality rate of these individuals decreases by approximately 20 years, so while we are seeing the current overdose rate increase, this epidemic will have a continued impact for at least another 2 to 3 decades based on current statistic models.

The CDC believes the prevalence of hepatitis C-related end-stage cirrhosis, liver cancer and deaths will peak in the late 2020s to early 2030s.

Deaths associated with hepatitis C reached an all-time high of 19,659 in 2014, according to surveillance data released in May 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A second CDC study, published online in Clinical Infectious Diseases, shows that annual hepatitis C-related mortality in 2013 surpassed the total combined number of deaths from 60 other infectious diseases reported to CDC, including HIV, pneumococcal disease, and tuberculosis.

While Hep C is no longer a death sentence, these cuts will make the treatment harder to access. New drugs, Harvoni and Salvaldi, have a 99% cure rate and we need people to be able to access quality care in order to decrease the mortality rate.

So why is our Governor cutting the funding for these programs when this is a preventable and curable disease?

Grief Support – Many families are suffering great losses due to the overdose epidemic, including myself and it is very important for the communities in which we live to have grief support in place and to make it widely known on where we can go to get this support. Losing someone is very difficult in and of itself, but losing someone to overdose is compounded by the stigma that is attached and the fact that often times it is a child, so the natural order of things is thrown out of balance.

If you have a family member, neighbor, parishener, or someone you know that has lost someone, please check in on them. While we may appear to be fine on the surface, we are struggling within and especially during the holidays.

For myself personally, the loss of my niece Julia, and 2 other cousins in 2016 has had a profound effect on me. It is a dark and lonely place to navigate at times, even with all of the awareness that has taken place over the last couple of years. Cuts to the budget of this nature only add insult to injury to a wide range of registered voters within the Commonwealth who are directly impacted and who are working tirelessly to combat this epidemic.

We need to remember this in the next upcoming election – not only on the State level but also the local level. You can review your local representatives’ voting records online. Vote smart and make sure your State and Local Representatives do in fact represent you on the issues.

Anticipated shortfalls are not actual deficits. While the 9C may give the Governor the authority to make unilateral cuts without the Legislature’s consent, he will have to answer to the people of Massachussetts come election time. Clearly, he wasn’t listening last April!

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