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Maile Shoul, Project Manager, Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin RegionMaile Shoul, Project Manager, Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin RegionOver two million people in the United States suffer from an opioid-use disorder related to the misuse of either prescription opioids or heroin. In Massachusetts, more than 275,000 people, or nearly one in 20 residents over the age of 11, have opioid-use disorder, as of 2015. Opioid addiction affects people from every race, ethnicity, gender and class.

Many people seeking treatment for opioid-use disorder take prescription medications such as methadone, Suboxone or Vivitrol. This category of medications is often referred to as either “MOUD” (Medications for Opioid Use Disorder) or “MAT” (Medication-Assisted Treatment). Research shows that these medications are not only safe but much more effective at treating opioid addiction than counseling alone. But these medications still carry a stigma and are misunderstood. Are they a legitimate form of treatment? Or are they just trading one addiction for another?

While addiction has long been considered to be primarily a moral failure, research now shows that addiction has complex physical and neurological components. When taken properly, prescription opioids can relieve pain safely. However, when taken improperly, opioids can overwhelm the brain’s pleasure receptors, causing an intense high. If this is done repeatedly, the brain will become accustomed to opioids. This repeated, high-level exposure can lead to chemical changes in the brain reducing the number of pleasure receptors. Opioid receptors also live in other parts of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract. In the absence of opioids, a person may experience emotional and physical symptoms such as depression, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and chills. Research shows it can take months or years for people to fully recover from the physical and neurological changes that result from opioid-use disorder.

While medications are not the right fit for everyone, research consistently shows that medications to treat addiction significantly increases adherence to treatment, compared with counseling alone.

When a person is ready to seek treatment, they often check in to an inpatient detox or rehab facility. In detox, medical professionals supervise people in withdrawal from drugs. The detox process typically lasts three to five days. They may be given medication or other therapies (such as acupuncture) to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal. “Rehab” usually refers to an inpatient program that offers intensive treatment including counseling, case management, and transition planning. There are different levels and settings, lasting a few weeks to a few months.

While detox and rehab can be life-saving, they are not sufficient for long-term treatment for opioid use disorder. Having a strong support system, either through support groups or informal channels, is vital, but many people need more support. The use of medications such as methadone, Suboxone or Vivitrol is the recommended treatment for opioid addiction by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, American Medical Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. While medications are not the right fit for everyone, research consistently shows that medications to treat addiction significantly increases adherence to treatment, compared with counseling alone.

Methadone has been used safely for decades to treat opioid-use disorder. It must be prescribed by a physician. Due to federal regulations, most people prescribed methadone must go to a designated methadone clinic to receive it. Methadone is a Schedule II drug, meaning that it is a narcotic with potential for abuse. Unfortunately, these federal regulations can make it difficult for people to access this medication. Other Schedule II drugs include Oxycodone and codeine, which are not subject to the same restrictions.

Suboxone is the brand name of buprenorphine-naloxone, another prescription medication that can treat opioid addiction. Suboxone is not subject to as many restrictions as methadone, and can be prescribed by an addiction specialist or by a primary care provider. The prescription can be filled at a pharmacy, which allows people to take it at home.

Vivitrol is the brand name for naltrexone, which is prescribed to treat opioid-use disorder and alcohol-use disorder; alcohol-use disorder affects over 15 million people in the United States. Naltrexone comes in pill and injection form and blocks the brain’s cravings for opioids or alcohol. It is not a controlled substance and can be prescribed by any health care provider who is licensed to prescribe medications.

To some people, methadone and Suboxone are controversial because they are opioids. Why, one may ask, would you use an opioid to treat opioid addiction? Aren’t you just trading one addiction for another? To understand the answer, it’s important to understand what “addiction” actually is. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and continued use despite harmful consequences. In contrast, most people who take medications for opioid-use disorder as prescribed have an increased level of stability in their lives. Now that they are not preoccupied with withdrawal or cravings, they can hold a job, rebuild their relationships and focus on their health.

Methadone and Suboxone have potential for abuse, which is why it is important to take them exactly as prescribed. Many other medications have very legitimate therapeutic uses and also have the potential for abuse, but it seems that medications that treat addiction carry a far greater stigma.

It is true that many people taking these medications will be physically dependent on them, as stopping the medications will bring on withdrawal symptoms. However, physical dependence is not the same as addiction. Just as a person with diabetes may be physically dependent on their prescription diabetes medication, taking the medication does not cause harmful consequences or drug-seeking behavior. As with diabetes medication, many people taking medications for opioid-use disorder may need to continue taking their medication for many years in order to remain healthy.

Medications for opioid-use disorder are effective, but because of their stigma, they are underused. It is important to dispel the myths surrounding these medications so that everyone who wants access to these life-saving medications is able to obtain them.

Sources: 

Lorraine York-Edberg, SHINE Regional Program DirectorLorraine York-Edberg, SHINE Regional Program DirectorAccording to a Press Release from the Governor’s Office, 40,000 more Medicare Beneficiaries across the state of Massachusetts will be eligible for the Medicare Savings Program. Starting January 1, 2020, income eligibility expanded for the MSP program from 135% to 165% of the Federal Poverty Level, and the asset limit doubled.

Starting January 1, 2020, income eligibility expanded for the MSP program from 135% to 165% of the Federal Poverty Level, and the asset limit doubled.

This is GREAT news for those who are newly eligible! It will increase the quality of life for many by directly increasing their income and adding significant benefits towards medications.

If you qualify, these programs will pay your monthly Part B premium ($144.60) and in some cases your Part A and B deductibles, co-pays and Part A premium (if you have one).

See If You Qualify

If your income and assets are at or below the amounts listed here, you may qualify for help from one of the Medicare Savings Programs.

Income and Asset Limits Effective Jan. 1, 2020
  Income/Month Assets
Single $1,738 $15,720
Married $2,346 $23,600
Prescription Drug Co-Payments with Extra Help Effective Jan. 1, 2020
  Per 30-Day Supply
Generic $3.60
Brand Name $8.95

And Better Still…

If you qualify for any Medicare Savings programs, you will also automatically qualify for a full subsidy under the Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy (LIS), which is also known as "Extra Help." This program in many cases pays the monthly premiums for your Medicare Prescription Drug plan, provided you are enrolled in a qualified plan. The LIS will also assist with covering drugs at low cost and assist during the Part D deductible and coverage gap.

Additionally these programs are not subject to estate recovery since January of 2010, so the state will NOT place a lien on your property to recover benefits following your death.

To apply, it is an easy, one page application, and simple to fill out. To get this application you can contact MassHealth at 1-800-841-2900 and request the Medicare Buy-In application and they can send it to you. Applications are also available online. We also have applications available here at the regional SHINE office upon request. If you need assistance filling it out we are happy to help.

-This article is based on a news release from the Governor’s Press Office and Outreach Materials developed from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

The SHINE program, Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone, provides confidential and unbiased health insurance counseling for Medicare beneficiaries. This is a free service, though contributions are welcome and will go a long way to help support this vital program. For further assistance with any Medicare issue, you can make a SHINE appointment. To reach a trained and certified counselor in your area, contact the regional office at 1-800-498-4232 or 413-773-5555, or contact your local council on aging.

Barbara Bodzin, Executive DirectorBarbara Bodzin, Executive DirectorDuring the winter months, many people struggle with feeling down. If you find yourself feeling this way, please know you’re not alone. Whether it's due to the cold weather, shorter days, the holidays coming to an end or reminders of missed loved ones, seasonal sadness can often creep in during this time of year.   Here are some action steps you might wish to consider for increasing your sense of wellbeing: 

During the winter months, many people struggle with feeling down.

1. Brighten Your Home - The vitamin D from natural light can help to improve your mood. Make it a daily routine to open your window coverings including blinds and curtains.

2. Anticipate an Event - Invite your grandchildren or a friend over for a visit, plan an outing with a loved one or buy yourself a special treat.

3. Stick to a Schedule - If you prepared dinner at a certain time every day, try to stick to that same schedule. If you typically attend Saturday or Sunday services, don’t skip it this time of year.

4. Eat a Balanced Diet - Eating a balanced diet is essential for older adults and is a natural way to boost your mood and energy.

5. Stay Active - Exercise, while important all year round, can be vital to lifting you up during the winter months. You can exercise indoors or dress in layers and take your exercise outdoors for some fresh air, if the temperature isn’t too cold. 

6. Accomplish a Goal - If you've been putting off a task, whether big or small, now is the time to tackle it.

7. Stay Active and Engaged - Take up a new hobby, join a group of your liking, take a class, learn something new.  Get together with friends or family, get out to a movie or cultural event or share a meal with others. Activities like crossword puzzles, scrabble or sudoku are great ways to keep your brain alert. Take time each day to exercise your brain.

8. Volunteer Your Time - Whether it is an hour a week, or a daily routine, opportunities abound for ways you can give back to your community.  Experience Volunesia - which is defined as “that moment when you forget you are volunteering to change other lives, because it is changing yours.” 

If these strategies don’t seem to be working for you or a loved one, reach out to your primary care physician for guidance and support.  Call LifePath and speak with a Resource Consultant at 413-773-5555, X1230; 978-544-2259, X1230; or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to learn about more options.

Scam Alert Infographic

Transcription:

Scams come in many variations. The stories might sound different but the motive is the same...to steal your money!

  • Never wire or send money to someone you don't know
  • Never buy gift cards to pay bills or taxes
  • Never wire money, send gift cards, or mail cash
  • Never wire money, send gift cards, or mail cash to claim a prize

Watch out for these popular scams!

  • Lottery & Sweepstakes
  • Romance
  • IRS
  • Computer Repair
  • Family Emergency
  • Utility Payment
  • Social Security

If you have a consumer problem or question, contact the Northwestern District Attorney's Consumer Protection Unit:

Working in cooperation with the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General.

Laurie Deskavich, Information & Caregiver Resource Center Program Director, LifePathLaurie Deskavich, Information & Caregiver Resource Center Program Director, LifePathWorld Cancer Day is an international day marked on February 4 to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. Having cancer patients be a part of the process from the beginning will help them address their overall needs physically, emotionally and socially. Having a supportive caregiver to get through the diagnosis, treatments, etc., is monumental.

Attention caregivers: This article’s focus is to provide helpful tips when caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer.

Q: What are some ways caregivers can be helpful?

A: When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, many people feel overwhelmed. Cancer does not just affect the person diagnosed - people involved in that person’s life, and especially those involved in their care, are also impacted. By taking certain steps, you’ll be better equipped to care for your loved one.

Cancer does not just affect the person diagnosed - people involved in that person’s life, and especially those involved in their care, are also impacted.

First, remember that communication is key. Keeping the lines of communication open will help all involved. Second, caregivers need to remember to take care of themselves. Without it their own well-being could become affected. Third, some find support groups can help them cope with the diagnosis along with supporting the mental well-being of the patient and their caregivers. Support and understanding from family and friends often provides the biggest impact on one’s emotional well-being.

The nonprofit Cancer Support Community offers ten tips for caregivers:

1. Know your support system
Talking to others who are experiencing what you may be experiencing can help manage stress, cope with possible isolation, and help you be a better caregiver.

2. Collect information
“Knowledge is power.” Research information about your loved one’s diagnosis and what treatments are available.

3. Understand how your life might change
Many cancer patients and their loved ones express feeling a loss of control after they have been diagnosed. Take time to accept the “new normal” and the changes that may come, one day at a time.

4. Take a break
Take time to relax and renew. Take a walk. This will help with your stress level and frame of mind.

5. Make time for yourself
Don’t forget you have a life, too. Reach out to friends for support.

6. Have a plan
This will give you peace of mind. Think of activities to do during treatments and plan something special to celebrate when treatments are over.

7. Accept help
Everyone needs help. If someone offers, say yes. This will help more than you think.

8. Take care of you
Don’t forget to stay current with your own medical appointments. Exercise, eat well, and get plenty of rest.

9. Manage stress
Meditate, do yoga, or participate in whatever makes you feel at ease. Keeping your stress level down is important.

10. Know your limits
Everyone needs help, including you. Know what you can and cannot do by yourself.

A cancer diagnosis brings change, but patients and their caregivers can take better care of their physical, emotional, and social well-being by taking part in the process from day one. Find more information and support at the Cancer Support Community and the American Cancer Society.

LifePath’s Information & Caregiver Resource Center can help you find answers to your questions.  Call 413-773-5555, X1230 or 978-544-2259, X1230 to speak to a Resource Consultant, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..