Courts to remain closed to the public until July.
By Norman Miller, Daily News Staff , @Norman_MillerMW
Posted at 7:20 AM, Updated at 7:20 AM
Due to the continuing coronavirus, the state Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday extended court closures for another month, to July 1.
All courthouses will remain closed to the public except for emergency matters until at least July 1.
The Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday updated its own order, which was set to expire next week, but due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, extended the court closure for another month.
All court business, including arraignments and other hearings, will be conducted via phone, video conference or email.
“The court system is open and conducting business virtually, with Trial Court departments increasingly addressing non-emergency matters that can be handled remotely,” said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants in a statement. “We will physically open courthouses to the public only when we are confident that we have protocols in place that will allow court users and court personnel to both be safe and feel safe, and even then we will open only in stages, focusing first on those matters that can only be addressed in person. Because we will need to conduct most court business virtually even after we physically reopen, we will devote our energies in June to improving our ability to do so, and to increasing the number and range of matters that can be resolved without the need for anyone physically to appear in court.”
All jury trials for both criminal and civil cases have previously been postponed until Sept. 8. Civil bench trials have been postponed until July 1 unless a judge rules it can take place virtually.
Some inmates released amid coronavirus concerns
Dated: 6:11 PM EDT Mar 25, 2020
BOSTON — Inmates are starting to be released in Massachusetts over concerns about coronavirus and a civil liberties advocacy group is hoping freedom is granted to many more people who are locked up.
The Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed an emergency petition with the state's highest court seeking freedom for large numbers of prisoners who the group argues are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.
More than 40 inmates have been released from the Middlesex County Jail and House of Correction this week. They were all people being held on bail, awaiting trial.
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan says she is not taking the decision to release anyone lightly.
“There are obviously some people that we have made an assessment that public safety can still be protected and they can be in a different setting,” Ryan said. “There are also a number of people who, for instance, have already had a dangerousness hearing. They've been adjudged by the court to be dangerous and they are being detained.”
At the Norfolk County House of Corrections, where 5 Investigates documented cleaning efforts underway last week, three inmates have been released so far with more under consideration.
“Releasing 40 people is hardly going to dent what we really need to do to keep the people incarcerated safe and keep ourselves safe,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
The ACLU of Massachusetts joined defense attorneys in filing an emergency petition with the state's Supreme Judicial Court to go even further by limiting the number of people taken into custody, releasing people held on pretrial detention, and releasing people held on certain sentences.
“We think it should be a lot of people,” said Segal. “It doesn't make sense for it to be done case by case because time is of the essence.”
The Middlesex DA disagreed.
“You really do need to be making a case by case analysis,” Ryan said.
That is the key question: Who to release and when?
The Suffolk County District Attorney's Office declined to comment when 5 Investigates asked about the number of inmates that have already been released.The SJC has given district attorneys, sheriffs, and other interested parties until Thursday at midnight to respond to the ACLU’s emergency petition.
Middlesex County has reduced the number of overdose deaths by 25% over the last four years.
By Anju Miura / Boston University Statehouse Program
Posted Mar 1, 2020 at 5:29 PM Updated Mar 1, 2020 at 5:30 PM
BOSTON – Middlesex County has reduced the number of overdose deaths by 25% over the last four years, five times greater than the state average of 5%, according to the District Attorney’s Office. And a MetroWest lawmaker says the county’s system and practice to achieve that result can be the state’s model.
The Middlesex Opioid Task Force’s annual survey, released on Feb. 19 during a meeting in Newton, found the number of overdose deaths declined from 251 in 2016 to 184 in 2019. Through mid-February, 24 overdose deaths have been recorded.
Approximately 80% of people who died from overdose last year used substances alone in their houses, said Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan.
The majority of overdose deaths took place in public facilities and cars in 2013 to 2014, but bedrooms became more common over the last two years with an increase of 9% from 2018 to 2019, according to the DA’s office.
In comparison, Massachusetts experienced a 5% drop in opioid-related deaths during the same period, according to an annual report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. As part of the state’s ongoing effort to deal with the opioid epidemic, Gov. Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal included more than $328 million, the highest funding than ever to prevent substance misuse and promote recovery by supporting prevention, intervention and treatment.
State Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, said the county has developed an effective opioid task force as a result of collective effort of area representatives, public health agencies, law enforcement, the district attorney’s office, local police and mental health professionals.
“What is going on now in Middlesex County can be a model for people elsewhere,” said Linsky. “We all are working together to try to combat this crisis.”
“We are a very different collection of communities,” said Ryan, adding local efforts have contributed to the decline of overdose deaths and the task force will continue working closely with local health care providers and addiction treatment experts.
“We have been able to come together working in partnerships, focus ourselves and do things that are actually making a difference to have invested the amount of time and money that the commonwealth has invested in,” said Ryan.
“We can address issues correctively,” said Katie Sugarman at Natick 180, a community coalition that aims to deal with the opioid epidemic by providing resources for addiction education, prevention and recovery.
She said the organization also provides a harm reduction guide for safer substance use to prevent fatal overdoses, understanding the difficulty to overcome substance use disorders.
“I’m a big believer in harm reduction and making sure that people get access to the services that they deserve,” said Rep. Tami Gouveia, D-Acton, who co- sponsored the bill to prevent overdose deaths and increase access to treatment.
Increased access to Narcan plays a role in reducing the number of overdose deaths, said Gouveia.
Narcan is a nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued a statewide standing order in 2018 to allow people to obtain Narcan rescue kits at local pharmacies without a prescription.
Because the town had five overdose deaths last year, Sugarman said Natick 180 encourages people to carry Narcan, especially those who may have a risk of witnessing or experiencing opioid overdose.
Linsky said other areas across the state can follow Middlesex County’s practice to provide treatment and recovery support rather than focusing on criminal convictions, which he said has contributed to a decline of overdose deaths.
“They are emphasizing recovery not punishment,” he said.
“Arresting people for substance use and possession of drugs is not solving the problem, and it’s exacerbating and making it worse,” added Gouveia, who had worked closely with people with addiction as a public health social worker for almost 20 years. “Because rather than providing people treatment that they need and deserve, we’re sending them to jail.”
Current state law prohibits the possession of controlled substances without a valid prescription, and possession of illicit drugs is one of the common offenses in Massachusetts. Depending on types of substance, a person can face up to two years imprisonment.
Gouveia said the state needs to provide more access to not only treatment but also other support for other mental health disorders, underemployment and homelessness, which people with addiction often suffer from.
As social isolation has been associated with almost four in five overdose deaths in the Middlesex County, stigma around substance use disorder plays a role holding people back from seeking help, said Cathy Miles, the founder of Framingham FORCE, a local group, which supports those who are in recovery.
“People don’t talk about it because it’s stigmatizing,” said Miles.
She said although the public is increasingly becoming aware of the opioid crisis, many people with addiction or in recovery still hesitate to share their stories with others due to a fear of judgment and stereotype.
“I think we have made great progress in destigmatizing mental health issues over the last decade, but there’s more we can do,” said Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D- Holliston, in a statement.
In addition to the administration’s proposed budget increase, the Massachusetts Senate approved a mental health parity bill to remove the barrier to mental health care access last month.
As stigma and shame discourage people from seeking treatment, the community has to share information, educate residents and provide recovery support for people with addiction.
“Addiction is an isolating experience,” said Sugarman.
“Mental health challenges more broadly affect a growing number of residents, from young children to elders,” said Dykema. “The Legislature has made a lot of progress, but we need to do more.”
Find the article here
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan receives Zonta International
District 1, US Centennial Award
Wakefield, MA -- On November 8 2019 Zonta International celebrated its Centennial Anniversary – 100 years of empowering women and girls around the world. What started with a group of women executives in 1919 in Buffalo, New York became an international organization in 62 countries with over 29,000 members.
The Zonta International District 1 Centennial Awards recognizes an individual or organization that demonstrates outstanding commitment to empowering women through service and/or advocacy living or working in New England and Nova Scotia, and an individual who demonstrate outstanding commitment to empowering women. "We are confident that this award will broaden our local networks and will strengthen our relationships with like-minded people and organizations. We don't want to live through 100 more years to achieve gender equality.", states Zonta International President Susanne von Bassewitz.
The District 1 Centennial Award was presented to District Attorney Marian Ryan by Joanne Puopolo, Past District 1 Governor and current Centennial Chair at the recent District 1 Fall Conference held at the Four Points Sheraton Boston Convention Center in Wakefield.Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan was chosen to receive the United States award because of her commitment to advocating for survivors of domestic violence, educating teens on dating violence and empowering women. “Choosing D.A. Ryan for this award was easy as she has been working in collaboration with the Zonta Club of Malden for many years. D.A. Ryan has supported our STEPS walk and Teen Dating Violence workshop and never hesitates to assist when needed”, remarked Elizabeth Hart, Governor, District 1, Zonta International.
Marian Ryan has been the Middlesex District Attorney since 2013. Before becoming District Attorney, she served the Office in various leadership positions including General Counsel, Chief of the Domestic Violence Unit, Chief of the Elder/Disabled Unit, and as Senior Counsel in the Family Protection Bureau.
A hallmark of District Attorney Ryan’s administration has been her equal commitment to addressing crime and other public safety issues through innovative prevention programs and non-traditional community partnerships.
As District Attorney, Marian Ryan has expanded initiatives in Middlesex County including utilizing restorative justice practices to intervene in the lives of at-risk youth and young adults and expanding diversion. She is an advocate for reforming the criminal justice system to put in place policies to address the collateral consequences for individuals who get involved in the criminal justice system ensuring that we continue to focus on rehabilitation and not just punitive aspects of our legal system.
She regularly lectures and leads workshops on workplace safety, teen dating violence internet safety and other initiatives that target vulnerable populations, such as immigrants and senior citizens. District Attorney Ryan has been acknowledged for her leadership on the opioid crisis and for developing other initiatives aimed at keeping children safe and protecting our seniors.
A graduate of Emmanuel College and Boston College Law School; she lives in Belmont with her husband and two children.
Zonta International District 1 encompasses six New England States and Nova Scotia.The District is made up of 12 clubs and 280 professional women who lend their time, talent and treasure to help women and girls. For more information about Zonta District 1, please visit our website (wwww.zontadistrict1.org),
Zonta International (www.zonta.org) is a leading global organization of professionals empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy. On 8 November, Zonta will celebrate its 100th anniversary. In 1919, a small group of founders in Buffalo, New York, had a vision to help all women realize greater equality. Today, more than 29,000 members in 63 countries work together to make gender equality a worldwide reality for women and girls. Since 1923, Zonta International has provided more than US$41.2 million to empower women and girls and expand their access to education, health care, economic opportunities and safe living conditions.
'Not guilty' doesn't mean unpunished;
How the Middlesex DA is changing the way court views bail
By Dan Glaun | [email protected]
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan speaking in April about a lawsuit she and Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the legality of its arrests at local courthouses.
Isaac, a slight-framed 19-year-old from Lowell, stood before a weathered wooden railing in his city’s district court last week, waiting to learn if he would keep his freedom.
He had been arrested the day before and charged with a felony count of selling crack cocaine. It was his first arraignment, and he was strapped for cash.
He had spent nearly his last $40 getting bailed out of the police station, and if the judge set hundreds of dollars in bail he would not have been able to afford it, he said in an interview -- meaning he would be locked up until either his case was resolved or his friends and family scraped together the money to get him released.
“If I wasn’t able to pay it, mostly likely I’d lose my job,” said Isaac, who asked that only his first name be used out of concern for his job and his privacy.
It did not come to that. Middlesex County prosecutors did not request any bail, and he was released with a commitment to attend his next court date.
Isaac’s release was not an isolated case.
For the last 18 months, Massachusetts’ most populous county has sought to abolish the use of cash bail for low-level defendants, who otherwise can languish in detention before trial if they cannot pay their way out of lockup.
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan announced in January of last year that her office would not seek cash bail for offenses that would not typically lead to a jail sentence, including some drug and property crimes.
It was a stand that placed Ryan in the company of a nationwide chorus of criminal justice reform advocates, months before the underdog elections of Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins and Berkshire DA Andrea Harrington made clear that progressive prosecutors were having a moment in Massachusetts.
Now, with a year-and-a-half of bail reform under her belt, Ryan says the policy is working – and has not led to a spike in missed court dates
“It was really looking at where the impact was falling on bail and how bail could sometimes be the beginning of a bad spiral,” Ryan said in an interview. “You have cash bail set you can’t make, you get held, you lose your job. Your housing was probably a bit tenuous anyway, then you lose your housing.”
In criminal justice reform, talk can be cheap. But Lynda Dantas, the attorney in charge of Lowell District Court’s public defender agency, said in an interview that Ryan appears to be following through.
“I would say that generally that is absolutely the truth,” Dantas said. “Where they would usually ask for a minimal bail for $200 or $500, the DA’s office is not asking for bail with those individuals.”
Her and her colleagues have seen more of their clients accused of drug possession, motor vehicle offenses and other misdemeanors go free after their arraignments. That is no small thing, Dantas said. While many cases end in dismissals or not guilty verdicts, defendants who cannot afford bail can spend months in jail awaiting trial.
“Not guilty” does not mean unpunished when pretrial detention can cost people their jobs, their housing or even their children, according to Dantas. Because of those costs, some innocent defendants take quick plea deals that leave them with criminal records rather than fight their charges, she said.
“I think a large percentage of these individuals would rather plead guilty to something they did not do than spend another day in jail,” she said.
When Ryan announced her office’s changing approach to bail, it was paired with a promise of transparency. The DA’s office has launched a web page displaying some of the numbers behind its prosecutions, in what it describes as an effort to give Middlesex residents a clear look at how their criminal justice system functions.
And it has shared raw data with Northeastern University, which will produce reports designed to illuminate any disparate enforcement among the county’s racial and ethnic groups, genders and municipalities.
Among the numbers publicly released, some stand out. The DA’s Office did not request bail in 72.86 percent of district court cases that continued after arraignment, and 88.82 percent of such juvenile cases. And at any given time, district and superior courts were handling about 9,000 active cases, with 5% of defendants being detained pretrial.
But while Ryan’s office appears committed to collecting and sharing data, determining the exact effects of the new bail policy has proved difficult.
The DA’s Office only began collecting data on bail requests and pretrial detentions in 2018, officials told MassLive – meaning that comparing those numbers to the old, stricter bail policy is not possible. And there is no central data clearinghouse in Massachusetts that allows the public to compare cash bail statistics, default rates or detention rates – either over time or between counties.
In 2017, the Massachusetts Trial Court conducted a study on statewide bail practices following the Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark decision in Brangan v. Commonwealth – a ruling that requires judges to account for a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail.
That study found that 80.7% of defendants in district court, where low-level offenses are typically prosecuted, were released without bail, 16.1 percent were set bail and 3.2 percent were ordered detained.
But those numbers do not help understand where Middlesex ranks in its approach to bail. While the statistics provided by Ryan’s office report on bail requests made by prosecutors, the trial court’s study looked at bail outcomes – including cases where a prosecutor may have requested bail, but a judge ordered the defendant released. That makes comparing those numbers impractical.
MassLive did find some independent evidence that suggests the policy is working as intended.
According to information from the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, the average number of pretrial detainees in the county jail decreased about 16% from 2017 to 2018. The data shows that the number of people held decreased month-to-month in each month except December, where the population held steady.
“There’s a lot less people being held pre-trial that should never have been held in the past,” Dantas said. “I think this is making a dent.”
And the DA’s Office said that the elimination of bail requests in many low-level crimes has not led to a spike in people skipping court dates. The county’s district court default rate has remained roughly the same since the policy was implemented, Ryan’s office said.
When Ryan announced in January 2018 that her office would no longer seek bail for offenses that would not lead to a jail sentence, she said it was part of an “evolving practice” that followed meetings with law enforcement and community stakeholders.
And it came amid a national movement to reduce the use of cash bail that has created an alliance of sorts between activists, criminal justice researchers and progressive prosecutors.
A growing body of scholarship has shown that cash bail creates hardships for poor defendants who often face a difficult and inescapable choice: sit in jail awaiting a day in court, risking jobs and housing, or plead guilty, receiving a blemish on their record that can also lead to problems with employers and landlords. Research from Penn Law School's Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice found that defendants who cannot make bail are convicted more frequently and receive worse plea terms than those who can pay.
Ryan said that her office does not have data on whether guilty pleas have decreased since her reforms were implemented.
“It stands to reason that is a factor in some cases,” Ryan said.
In 2017, New Jersey essentially eliminated money bail, replacing it with a focus on offenders that judges deem dangerous to the community. Despite funding challenges, state officials say the system has been a success. The numbers of people detained before trial plummeted, while recidivism and default rates did not significantly rise, according to a report released in April.
In California, reformers have faced stiffer resistance. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill eliminating cash bail last year, but the measure has been put on hold pending a referendum backed by the bail bond industry.
And in 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Brangan v. Commonwealth led to a shift in how judges assess bail. In the Brangan decision, the SJC ruled that judges must consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail – and that cash bail can only be used to ensure that a defendant returns to court, not as a way of jailing defendants without a dangerousness hearing.
“A bail that is set without any regard to whether a defendant is a pauper or a plutocrat runs the risk of being excessive and unfair,” Justice Geraldine S. Hines wrote in the decision.
Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins was elected last year on promises to overhaul criminal justice in Greater Boston. She quickly became one of the state’s most visible advocates of progressive prosecution, and in March released a policy memo that addresses cash bail – and goes much further.
Suffolk prosecutors now work from the presumption that all defendants will be released without bail, unless there is “clear evidence” of a flight risk or the need for a dangerousness hearing. And Rollins’ memo lists 15 misdemeanors that her office will divert or decline to charge, except in exceptional circumstances – ranging from drug possession with intent to distribute and petty larceny to breaking into a vacant property and driving with a suspended license.
Those policies – and Rollins’ focus on the harms inflicted by the criminal justice system – have drawn aggressive pushback from law-and-order factions of the criminal justice community. The National Police Association – a conservative Indiana-based nonprofit that is not affiliated with individual police departments – filed a bar complaint against her.
And Cape & Islands DA Michael O’Keefe wrote an opinion column in the Boston Globe that did not name Rollins but blasted her approach, attributed the campaigns of “social justice” DA candidates to support from George Soros and said the criminal justice system has been wrongly blamed for racial disparities in incarceration.
“It’s harder to blame, for example, the disintegration of the family, a lack of respect for discipline and education, and the glorification in some communities of a culture that celebrates disrespectful language and misogyny under the guise of art,” wrote O’Keefe. “I suspect that these factors are more influential regarding who is in jail or prison than an inert criminal justice system.”
Ryan’s more modest reforms have escaped such public controversy.
“I am very fortunate to have good, solid relationships with our chiefs of police, with our local officials. This wasn’t something that we did abruptly,” she said. “We’ve done this in a measured way. We’ve been fortunate. The results have been what we hoped.”
MassLive reached out to several Middlesex County police departments for this story, none of whom responded with criticisms of Ryan’s bail policy.
“We have not taken a position on this, nor have any Middlesex chiefs voiced concerns directly to me,” Mass Chiefs of Police President Mark Leahy wrote in an email.
Dantas, the public defender, said she has noticed an increase in the Middlesex DA’s use of dangerousness hearings to deny bail entirely, now that the use of cash bail has decreased.
While judges are currently only allowed to consider a defendant’s pending charges when assessing dangerousness, a coalition of law enforcement officials and political leaders are pushing for legislation that would make those detentions easier. A bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker would allow judges to consider criminal histories when deciding dangerousness and grant prosecutors the right to appeal bail decisions by district court judges.
SIDS Stories Spur Prosecutor to Enact New Policy
After listening to stories at a hearing Tuesday from parents who lost children to sudden infant death syndrome, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan's office this week initiated a new policy to connect parents who lose a child with support resources.
Families who lost children to SIDS on Tuesday touted a Sen. Joan Lovely bill (S 68) that would direct the Medical Examiner's office to provide families or guardians with "information, support, referral, and follow-up services relating to sudden infant death syndrome" immediately following the determination that SIDS is the presumed cause of death.
On Wednesday, Ryan's office made it its policy to provide families who suffer the unexpected death of a child with informational material from the Massachusetts Center for Unexpected Infant and Child Death.
"The loss of a child is the most devastating tragedy a family can endure. We know that the trauma of this loss has immediate impacts on those who loved and cared for that child," Ryan said in a statement Wednesday. "Yesterday's hearing exposed a gap in services that our office has the capability to address. I applaud the legislature's efforts to codify the practice of providing these resources, but given the immediate need to address this problem we are acting now."
Ryan's office put its new policy into action later Wednesday evening, when troopers from her office responded to the death of a five-month-old child found unresponsive at a day care facility on Falmouth Road in Waltham. Ryan's office said staff immediately administered CPR and the infant was transported to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
"While the investigation into this matter is still ongoing, and a ruling on the cause of death has not been made, this demonstrates how quickly a change can have an impact," Ryan said. - Colin A. Young/SHNS
6/13/2019 12:29:26 PM
Players from Chelsea Football Club hold soccer clinic for Framingham Students
By Zane Razzaq @zanerazz
Daily News staff
Posted May 14, 2019 at 6:10 PM Updated May 15, 2019 at 4:55 PM
The workshop came before Chelsea's charity match against the New England Revolution team Wednesday. The game at Gillette Stadium aims to bring awareness to global anti-Semitism.
FRAMINGHAM – Sixth-grader Guilherme Freitas was beaming when he high-fived London's Chelsea Football Club defender David Luiz. Behind him, another player, Emerson Palmieri, was busy autographing the back of his shirt.
Players from Britain's Premier League team visited Fuller Middle School for a workshop that highlighted the values of equality, diversity, and friendship Tuesday afternoon. The program was part of the Chelsea Foundation's work supporting their charity game against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium set for Wednesday night. The match, dubbed "Final Whistle on Hate," aims to combat global antisemitism and discrimination, with all proceeds going towards initiatives fighting antisemitism and all hate crimes.
"It was amazing," said 13-year-old student Cristian Perez, who names Eden Hazard as his favorite Chelsea player. "I was so happy to see them. I got all their signatures."
Students from Fuller and Cameron Middle School participated in the program. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and the Anti-Defamation League partnered to bring the program to Framingham. In addition to Tuesday's events, Chelsea Football Club also invited after-school participants from Cameron and Fuller Middle Schools to attend an open practice at Harvard University on Monday. Limited tickets to the Chelsea vs. Revolution soccer game were also offered to Framingham students.
One part of the program saw kids learning soccer techniques in a session with Chelsea coach Nathan Philip, player Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Palmieri, and Luiz. In another session, students spent time in a diversity workshop, writing pledges detailing their commitments to diversity and equality.
Teachers with the Chelsea Foundation used sports as an example of diversity, encouraged students to develop ideas on how differences can be celebrated, and how sports can be used to bring communities together.
"This is something we're really passionate about: using the power of the badge to inspire kids," said Sam Gaskin-Kemp, program manager. "Soccer sometimes has a bad reputation for the fans not always behaving themselves. We want to prove that wrong."
Casey Bell, manager of Secondary Out of School Time in the district, said the gym was filled with "super high-energy," as players gave students soccer tips and led them through drills.
"They (the students) were psyched. A lot of them had never been to a soccer game, let alone meet a famous player," said Bell. "It's something they couldn't have accessed before."
Fans can purchase tickets to the match on Ticketmaster.com or Revolutionsoccer.net. Prices for individual tickets start at $40. Special discounts on group tickets are available through Revolutionsoccer.net.
Zane Razzaq can be reached at 508-626-3919 or [email protected] and on Twitter at @zanerazz.
The Reading Advocate: DA Ryan speaks to Reading Rotary Club on opioid crisis
By Joanne Sender
Jun 25, 2018 at 4:34 PM Jun 25, 2018 at 4:34 PM
The Reading Rotary Club held their annual installation of officers with special guest speaker, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, Tuesday, June 19 at St. Agnes Parish Center.
Ryan, the only female DA in Massachusetts who has held the position since 2013, spoke to the group about the current state of the opioid crisis in the county.
As a chief law enforcement officer in the state, Ryan explained that when there is an unattended death her state troopers respond. They make an initial assessment of what is the cause of death and insure there is no foul play.
When local police determine they cannot help the person the state police come in and start investigating. They will look at the persons phone to see where they may have gotten the drug and also who else they have spoken to recently as that person may also be at risk if they obtained the same drug. In addition, Ryan said they gather information on what the person struggled with in order to make useful predictions.
Last year there were 1,044 opioid-related fatalities, Ryan said. Every one of those is someone’s child, somebody’s sibling, somebody’s mom and dad, she said. How many families can you spare from that sort of tragedy?
Until 2012 there were approximately 40 opioid-related deaths each year. At the end of 2012 something happened and that number rose to 65. That was alarming, Ryan said.
Hardest hit was the Merrimack Valley. Task forces were formed with everyone who was going to have anything to do with the problem. The first successful task force was formed in Lowell. By the end of this summer a fifth one in Auburn will be established.
Ryan said that the crisis involves just about every town in the county. Reading has seen 15 deaths and that does not include those where individuals die in the hospital. The towns may look different, the problem is exactly the same, Ryan said.
Ryan also spoke about the success of Naloxone (Narcan), saying, “We know that Narcan is a lifesaving drug.”
Ryan said it is 100 percent effective if given in time before the heart stops and there are no ill effects and you cannot harm a person if you give it and they don’t actually need it.
She said there is a lot of talk about not giving Narcan but her thought is it gives a person another day to try to work things out.
If that’s your child, that’s all you want, she said.
Combating the crisis
The DAs office receives a portion of seized money and assets that are the profits of drugs and Ryan has used that money to purchase the Narcan she distributes. So far her office has distributed 4,000 doses. I want it to be as readily available as fire extinguishers or defibrillators, she said.
Ryan has distributed Narcan to schools, athletic trainers, soup kitchens and recently to funeral homes where people have overdosed while at the services of a friend who has died from an overdose.
One improvement in the crises, according to Ryan, has been the ability to prevent surges. In the past while there might be an average of four deaths a day it would on occasion surge to nine or 10 and they would just have to wait it out. But in March of 2017 the county partnered with private ambulances since they always know what is happening because they have to bill somebody.
Ryan’s office was able to use this real time data to see the surge begin and they took to social media to warn people there might be bad product out there and to take a break or be careful. They told people if they had loved ones who are using they should contact them and make sure they had Narcan.
Every time we’ve done it the surge has stopped, Ryan said.
Ryan said that for a while no matter what they did the numbers kept going up, unlike other health issues that had been addressed such as smoking and drunk driving. She said it takes a change in thinking and that’s been hard to do. She explained that part of it is the physiological differences of addiction.
While you can become addicted in as few as six days it takes six months for the scar tissue to heal when you stop. That is why a week or ten days of treatment might be a good idea but doesn’t work.
There has been some good news. In 2017 there was a drop in the numbers. Lowell, the worst hit city, has seen a 21 percent drop in fatal overdoses, and the county overall has seen an 11.5 percent reduction.
This is going to take time, Ryan said.
One thing that has changed is more people are overdosing at home instead in seemingly random places. In 81 percent of cases people are dying in their own homes. The median age of an overdose victim is 36, which Ryan explained means they are deep in addiction and the social aspect of using is gone. More and more children are finding their parents when they overdose. Project Care has been formed to address the trauma these children face.
In 60 percent of at home deaths a non-using adult is also at home. It is heartbreaking for these people to have not realized their loved one was dying, Ryan added. They often mistake the distressed breathing of an overdose to snoring. Ryan said people are at risk of overdosing a few days after they have been drug free from rehab or jail. Their receptors are now clean and using the same amount of drug they used prior can be fatal.
The times most people are susceptible to overdosing is around 72 hours of a loss or trauma. And she is not sure of the connection but a lot of people who die have sought medical treatment in the three to four days prior to their death for some other illness such as a sore throat.
Ryan told the group she had testified before Congress the previous day and was shocked at how far behind so many places were. She concluded by asking Rotarians to be her ambassadors and spread the word.
Rich Winant, founder and director of the Kelly Sober House of Wakefield, also spoke with what he called a message of hope.
He also warned that after a stay in rehab people are not ready to come home and family aren’t ready to receive them. In the days after they come out they will feel like using and they can be open to talking about their feelings in a sober house. Metrics show sober living is working, Winant said.