Big Ideas Shrink When All We Talk About Is Which Candidate Has Big Bucks

Thursday, May 31, 2018

News coverage of the candidates for governor this year seems fixated on campaign cash: how much Republican incumbent Charlie Baker has and how little the candidates in the Democratic primary, Jay Gonzalez and Robert Massie, have.

Yesterday, for example, The Boston Globe reported that Baker is sitting on a campaign account of more than $8 million and that Democrats Jay Gonzalez and Robert Massie have, combined, only $132,000.
Until after the Sept. 4 primary, and until the winner of the primary raises many millions of dollars, we are not likely to hear a whole lot about what Gonzalez and Massie stand for or what they want to do as governor.

That’s too bad.  Each Democrat is peddling some audacious ideas.
To ease the struggles of persons with addictions, Gonzalez, for example, wants to require health insurers to cover the cost of medical marijuana.  And, to reduce deaths by overdose, he wants the state to allow safe injection sites.

To combat climate change, Massie wants to block all investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind, such as gas pipelines and power generating facilities that burn oil and/or gas.
I, personally, don’t support safe injection sites or a freeze on new fossil fuel infrastructure. I think medical marijuana as a reimbursable treatment for addictions may have merit but should be approached with caution because of what it could do to exacerbate the already high cost of health coverage.

Nevertheless, the media should give Gonzalez and Massie all the space and air they need to make their cases.  Too much coverage of the political horse race they don’t have the money to run makes for a less exciting, less meaningful election.
At this point in the calendar, we already know that safe injection sites are an idea whose time has not come in Massachusetts.  The legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse decided on May 3 to send Senate Bill 1081, An Act to Authorize Public Health Workers to Pursue New Measures to Reduce Harm and Stigma for People Affected by Substance Use Disorder, “to study,” legislature-speak for waste basket.  SB 1081 proposed to create safe spaces for drug users to take pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of health care professionals.

I’m probably missing something therapeutically valid or significant here but how does a safe injection site for morphine addicts do anything ultimately beyond ensuring the continuation of an addiction?  When SB 1081 was heard on Aug. 24, 2017, at least one witness, Ronald Hill, who described himself, according to the State House News Service, as a recovering addict, made this point better than I can. 
“If I’m high, you ain’t going to tell me about no treatment,” Hill told the members of the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse.  “When I hear about treatment is when I got no money and I’m desperate.  But when I’m high, you can talk to me all day long.  I don’t hear you.”

Moving to medical marijuana as a component of addiction therapy, please consider the following from the web site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), whose mission is to “advance addiction science.”  NIDA reports that it funded two studies exploring the relationship between marijuana legalization and adverse outcomes associated with prescription opioids. 
“The first study,” it said, “found an association between medical marijuana legalization and a reduction in overdose deaths from opioid pain relievers; an effect strengthened in each year following the implementation of legislation.”

The second study “was a more detailed analysis by the RAND Corporation that showed legally protected access to medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with lower levels of opioid prescribing, lower self-report of nonmedical prescription opioid use, lower treatment admissions for prescription opioid use disorders, and reduction in prescription opioid overdose deaths.”
Gonzalez could be onto something.  If he has the stuff to fight the uphill battle for a new insurance mandate, let him at it.






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