Watertown’s efforts to end addiction and fight the opioid crisis have been noticed at the state level, and one of the local leaders has been appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker to serve on a state board.
What had been scheduled to be a regular meeting of the Watertown Access to Treatment, Education and Resources Task Force (WATERtown) turned into a celebration of member Woody Giessmann’s new position. Gov. Baker came to the Watertown Free Public Library to swear in Giessmann to his seat on the Massachusetts Board of Registration and Medicine.
Giessmann was a member of the Del Fuegos, and is in long term recovery. He is founder and CEO of Right Turn, an outpatient treatment center for those seeking to recover from addiction located in Watertown.
“I judge myself not by what I have, but what I am willing to give,” Giessmann said. “I give my service to the board and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. What an honor. Governor, thank you for picking me.”
Baker said he began hearing from people about the problems of opioid addiction when he was on the campaign trail in 2013. His wife, also heard from people, and it didn’t matter what part of the state or which group they spoke to.
“Their opening line, after saying they were dealing with this as a family, is ‘It’s been hell,'” Baker said.
When he had his staff look into the figures, he found that there was a 25 percent increase in opioid addiction and overdoses, for eight years in a row.
Many addicts start when they are prescribed opioid pain killers after a medical or dental procedure. Baker said his family dodged the bullet of opioid addiction, twice. Both of his sons played football in college, and both suffered injuries that required surgery. Each was given pain killers that contain opioids.
“Thank God, when the pain went away, he stopped taking the medication and that was that,” Baker said of his eldest son, who was hurt before Baker was aware of the opioid problem.
His younger son got hurt while Baker was running for governor, and when he and wife heard about it, Baker said they gave him detailed instructions to only take it as long as he needed it, and as soon as possible take Advil or Tylenol to control the pain.
Baker said Giessmann’s appointment is part of his effort to put people on state boards who know about addiction recovery. He has also taken other steps in other areas.
First, he required all graduates of medical and dental schools in Massachusetts to have to pass a pain management course as part of their schooling. In addition, he stopped the practice of sending women who are involuntarily committed for substance abuse to Framingham State Prison.
“Finally, after 30 years, they will be sent to hospital for treatment instead of being sent to prison,” Baker said.
Baker has also submitted a bill to the State Legislature to improve substance use treatment, education and prevention. It is currently working its way through the Legislature.
James Wahlberg, a filmmaker, member of the Wahlberg family and recovering addict, said the way Massachusetts has led the fight against opioids and addiction makes him proud to be a Bostonian.
“Gov. Baker, I am absolutely floored by the way you have chosen to face this epidemic,” said Wahlberg, who directed “If Only,” a film about addiction which was shown at the Erase the Stigma event at Watertown High School this fall.
Giessmann said he believes a key to overcoming addiction is respect and not marginalizing them.
“When people come to (Right Turn) they are treated with dignity and respect,” Giessmann said. “They are sick people who need a little help, not bad people. I speak as someone with my own long term recovery.”