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COCCHI DEMONSTRATES HOW POLITICS CAN MAKE THE OPIOID CRISIS WORSE; CALLS TOMMY ASHE'S PLAN "DANGEROUS"

Having personally spent the past 23 years working in public safety in a correctional environment and directly with people and families affected by substance abuse, I was deeply concerned to see the recent plan proposed by Tommy Ashe detailed in The Republican/MassLive for an additional 77 unit substance abuse facility at the Ludlow House of Corrections.


Though politically expedient, his plan belies a basic lack of understanding of the role of the Sheriff’s Department, the nature of the disease of addiction, and most importantly, the basic tenets of how to best combat this crisis affecting our community and help those afflicted achieve lasting recovery.


The work I, along with hundreds of other professionals have done at the Hampden County Addiction Center, has been a driving force in our community for successfully helping those battling addiction for decades.  But, we have not accomplished this by acting alone. Rather, a critically important component of our endeavors has been our ability to work cooperatively and in partnership with both the State and community-based treatment service providers.


The Sheriff’s Department’s primary role in the battle against addiction is to prepare offenders to reenter the community with needed treatment and stabilization services along with referrals to programs and services in the community. These community-based referrals are made to the agencies and organizations which best meet the individual’s needs. 


For decades, we have been providing the framework for and application of intensive substance abuse treatment services for our offender population.  However, equally important is that the Department has been connecting those offenders returning to the community to appropriate Bureau of Substance Abuse Services licensed treatment programs, as well as to peer-to-peer recovery support communities. 


The Bureau of Substance Abuse Services is the State Agency that oversees substance abuse treatment services.  They have been on the front lines in the battle against opiate abuse.  Governor Baker has been a willing partner, significantly increasing funding for this effort and of BSAS in his 2017 budget, including monies for peer-to-peer recovery centers here in western MA.  


When you better understand the wide range of services these state programs provide, it is evident that a County Sheriff’s Department is far better suited to working with them, rather than trying to duplicate them. We need to support their efforts rather than spend taxpayer money to compete with them.


Our own budget does not allow for expansion at our Ludlow facility. It is unfortunate that Tommy Ashe neglected to provide any specifics as to the procurement of the resources necessary to accomplish his plan; a plan that according to expert counselors in the field will just simply not be effective.


It is highly unlikely that those seeking voluntary treatment will be willing to go to jail to get it. The treatment programs for those involuntarily committed and those seeking voluntary treatment should be separate from each other.  There are real disadvantages and dangers to criminalizing someone who has not been criminalized. A young person whose family is desperate for treatment options, may not appreciate that such a setting may be more damaging to their loved one.


We are already level-funded to accomplish our primary mission of incarceration and rehabilitation of our criminal population in Ludlow.  However, for more than 30 years at our former treatment center on Howard Street, we have been exceedingly successful. And, we expect to continue our great work at our soon-to-open new treatment center on Mill Street in Springfield.  We have demonstrated through decades of hard work, that to be effective, substance abuse treatment MUST occur near wrap-around services in the community.  Ludlow offers no such services.


Over 65 percent of all incarcerated persons with addiction come from Springfield where there are the majority of addiction treatment services. These services are essential to ensure a smooth, successful transition to sobriety and recovery.  Springfield also possesses significant transportation infrastructure to support these individuals for whom transportation is often an obstacle.  Ludlow does not.  I was stunned to see that Tommy Ashe, the Public Safety Chairman for the City of Springfield, does not seem to know that the overwhelming majority of the people we release back into the County come back to Springfield.


Tommy Ashe also proposed a real time database for Judges and court staff.  It already exists!  There is a database at www.mabhaccess.com.  Through a web portal and helpline, all parties can see what beds are available in the state when updated by the treatment centers.


It’s not perfect. But putting resources to improve existing infrastructure rather than attempting to build new ones is a far better use of money.  The fact that the City Councillor did not even know this exists is another indication that the position of Sheriff and the work he is tasked with is far too important to leave to the uneducated and uninitiated.  Politics when mixed with real correctional and behavioral practices can be a dangerous combination.


We cannot and should not house a primary addiction center on our Ludlow campus.  Politicians often talk of treatment on demand, or of housing low risk individuals with higher risk offenders.  It may make for a great sound bite, but it’s just bad correctional practice.  


Community-based drug rehabilitation outside of the walls of a jail with wrap- around services in close proximity is ultimately the more cost effective solution for the taxpayer and produces far better results for the individual with addiction.