Opioid epidemic has local face in national spotlight

GREENFIELD — Watching a TV at the Swift River rehab center in Cummington, Tonda DaRe and Sarah Ahern were disappointed by what they saw: a hyped-up presidential announcement on the opioid epidemic, which came up short for them.

They were hoping, somewhat expecting, President Donald Trump to a declare a national medical emergency to respond to the opioid crisis.

That plan didn’t come, though, as Trump, with the assistance of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, laid out a vision to toughen law enforcement instead of focusing on medical treatment.

DaRe, from a rural town in Ohio, and Ahern, a Greenfield resident and local advocate in western Massachusetts, weren’t just another two people who have been affected by the epidemic.

A week before, DaRe had met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions face-to-face to deliver a special report on how to enact a national emergency, written by Ahern, the founder of EndTheStigma.

“I was trying to help him understand that arresting our way out of it is not going to work,” DaRe said about her conversation with Sessions. “He listened, but it’s tough to tell what sticks.”

Ahern put together a plan for DaRe, who lost her daughter to a heroin addiction, to give to Sessions. The plan was based on her experiences as an advocate.

The plan calls for Price to declare a public health emergency and for Trump to then declare through an executive order a national emergency. Ahern’s plan then explains that the U.S. Army’s Medical Corps would assist communities with acute treatment, similar to a national disaster, like a tornado. Federal funds could be funneled into state and local governments. It would also open beds — demanding hospitals to open beds to those with addiction — and authorize the use of military bases and hospitals for similar care.

Trump’s plan did not call for a national emergency, but rather to toughen law enforcement against drug dealers, which he said is “vital to having a drug-free society.”

DaRe and Ahern have been working together to fight the opioid epidemic since meeting in Washington, D.C., in 2015 at the UNITE to Face Addiction summit.

The partnership was almost squandered though. When Ahern returned from the conference, she had been so overjoyed by the summit that she hadn’t unpacked for three days. Finally going through her things, she found a bracelet from Holly’s Song for Hope, a group DaRe founded. Seconds later, Ahern said, she went on Facebook and saw a friend…

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