DeLeo: Student drug talks raise constitutional issues

In this file photo from 2014, House Speaker Robert Deleo (D-Winthrop), talks to members of the media.

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 21, 2015….Sharing the same goal of reducing addiction and drug deaths, leaders in state government differ in their view of a recommendation made by a Senate committee, with Speaker Robert DeLeo questioning its constitutionality.

Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat, led a special committee that recommended schools conduct conversations with schoolchildren to evaluate them for substance abuse or other risky behavior.

“I think right now one of the issues that we would have with that that we’d have to look into is that whether we could even do that because of the constitutional rights that each student may have,” DeLeo told reporters outside an event where he spoke to a room of people in drug recovery. He said, “I don’t think we could have a system where you could force them to be evaluated.”

Flanagan emphasized that the screening would not involve chemical screening, but would instead consist of conversations with students. She said recent visits to the new Worcester Recovery High School and the Worcester House of Correction provided evidence that addicts begin drinking or using drugs often before they are teenagers.

“What don’t you want to know?” Flanagan asked in an interview. Her proposal recommended schools be required to perform on middle and high school students Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment, or SBIRT. She said, “I’ve heard I’m a Communist. I’ve heard I want to drug-test every kid in the state. It’s got nothing to do with drug testing and there’s no criminal ramifications from it.”

“I just want to learn more about that,” Attorney General Maura Healey said of Flanagan’s screening proposal on Monday.

At a Politico Massachusetts breakfast event last week, Gov. Charlie Baker said of Flanagan’s proposal, “I’m willing on this one to listen to almost anything people come up with. I don’t really like that idea very much.”

Flanagan said she hopes to talk to the governor and his staff about her special committee’s recommendations.

In Gardner Auditorium people wearing recovery T-shirts cheered exuberantly for speakers who called for removing the stigma of addiction, better access to treatment and more access to Narcan, life-saving medication that reverses overdoses.

Gloucester Police Chief Len Campanello said that since June 1 when the department started referring addicts who present at the station to recovery services, the program has put 192 people into treatment.

“If a police department on the North Shore of Massachusetts can place 192 people in three months without any money for beds, why can’t everybody else do the same?” Campanello asked.

Tom Coderre, a former Rhode Island state senator and senior advisor for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said the federal government supports medication-assisted treatment, better prescription protocols and funding for the purchase of Narcan.

In long-term recovery himself, Coderre told the crowd he has not used drugs or alcohol since May 15, 2003.

The Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery event was held to celebrate “recovery month.”

Quincy Lt. Det. Patrick Glynn said that since 2010, when the department trained all its officers in Narcan, Quincy police have reversed 448 overdoses, including 92 this year.

“We have to collaborate together, because if not we’re going to perish,” Glynn said.

DeLeo said that behavioral health “on the whole” would be a priority for the House this session.

“This session we will enhance our commitment to addressing behavioral health on the whole, that means addiction and mental health,” DeLeo told the audience.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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