On a night when Watertown groups committed to stopping the opiate crisis received a Chamber of Commerce Award, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito underscored the seriousness of the crisis and the efforts being taken by the Gov. Charlie Baker’s Administration.
Polito also talked about efforts to boost the Massachusetts economy and increase funding for towns and schools during her keynote address at the 42nd annual Watertown Belmont Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner Thursday night at the Belmont Country Club.
The use and overdoses from opiates and heroin has become a huge problem in Massachusetts, Polito said.
“It is a health crisis, not a criminal one – a health crisis first and foremost,” Polito said.
The Baker Administration seeks to cut the amount of painkillers containing painkillers prescribed to people.
“We want to reduce the first prescription amount to the equivalent of three days,” Polito said. “Why do you need a prescription of 60 days? 90 days? You don’t need it.”
They also want to provide more beds for addiction treatment and allow people suffering from addiction to voluntarily admit themselves for 72 hours, just as people with mental illness can do now.
Polito applauded three Watertown organizations which recently put on the Erase the Stigma week in town to raise awareness of the opiate issue and try to remove the embarrassment and shame of addicts so they can seek treatment and recovery.
“It’s all about stopping the stigma,” Polito said. “Watertown, you are doing that.”
The groups – the W.A.T.E.R. Town Coalition, Watertown Overcoming Addiction and Watertown Against Substance Abuse – all received the Chamber’s Stanley Porter Award for outstanding dedication and achievement in serving our community as an involved citizen.
Polito also touted the Governor’s Community Compact Program, which she is spearheading. Cities and towns that sign the compact agree to use “best practices” to provide services. They also get bonus points toward qualifying for certain state grants, she said. Recently the 50th community signed a compact, but Watertown and Belmont are not among them.
The administration will also seek to fix problems – such as MassHealth and the MBTA – help the most vulnerable residents of Massachusetts and while doing that they “will not ask taxpayers to pay a penny more,” Polito said
During question time, Watertown Town Manager Michael Driscoll thanked Polito and Baker for not making mid-year cuts, and asked if aid for towns and schools would be going up.
“Part of our promise is when we have revenue growth we will shared it with cities and towns,” Polito said. “We plan to build a budget around that. You will see an increase in local aid and school aid.”
Along with the awards presented to the Watertown groups raising awareness about the opiate crisis, the Chamber handed out several other awards.
The Dexter C. Whittinghill Award for outstanding service to the Chamber as a member and committee person went to Marillian Missiti of Buono Pest Control.
The Charles Burke Award for outstanding dedication and service to youth went to Judy Gilreath for her 20 years working at the Watertown Boys & Girls Club, and to Jamie MacIsaac for creating a middle school football program in Belmont.
The Chamber of Commerce Award for outstanding cooperation with the business community as a group or organization went to A. Russo & Sons of Watertown and Joseph O’Donnell of Belmont.
The Business Revitalization Award for outstanding contribution to our community through significant redevelopment or enhancement of commercial or industrial property went to The Residence at Watertown Square and Hynes Collision Center in Belmont.