Pushing the addiction-as-disease envelope

Two assumptions have have come to define discussion of the opioid crisis in the country: 1) It is not a partisan issue, and 2) we need to approach it as a public health problem, not a criminal one.

The tires are now getting kicked a little on both claims.

Gov. Charlie Baker has become a leading face of the first one, with the Republican governor making the opioid addiction crisis a top priority for state government and challenging the idea that Democrats have the corner on committing new public resources to those in need. He has regularly been part of a bipartisan tag-team with two prominent Democrats — Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healey — in the anti-addiction fight. The most recent stop for the trio was Tuesday morning at the launch of RIZE Massachusetts, a new private-sector effort to raise $50 million over the next three years to tackle addiction issues.

Today’s news brings word that Baker may be tapped by President Trump to serve on a presidential commission to address the crisis.

The panel may have seemed like one safe way Baker could work with the Trump administration, whose unpopular immigration and health care policies he has criticized. But Democrats jumped on the idea that the new Republican administration is serious about taking on the addiction issue.

“The Trump administration is trying to score political points by paying lip service to the opioid epidemic at the same time they’re trying to take treatment coverage away from families,” US Representative Katherine Clark said in a statement to the Globe. The failed Republican health care bill would have pulled back on mandated coverage for addiction treatment services. The Globe then adds that Baker has faced criticism from Democrats in Massachusetts for budget cuts that have pared back some addiction treatment accounts.

As for the idea of approaching addiction as health problem, not a crime, the Herald’s Bob McGovern writes today about a pending Supreme Judicial Court case that will put that to an interesting test.

The case involves a Concord woman named Julie Eldred, who was put on probation following a larceny arrest and ordered to remain drug-free and submit to regular drug checks. Less than a month later, she tested positive for fentanyl.

Her lawyer argues that sanctioning her would be a constitutional violation of her due process and equal protection rights because her drug use resulted from a diagnosed addiction disorder.

“Ordering Ms. Eldred, who has been diagnosed with substance use disorder, to be drug-free or face criminal consequences is the equivalent of ordering that she be cured, or at least in remission, of her disorder through the duration of her probation,” her lawyer, Lisa Newman-Polk, wrote in her filing with the SJC.

Lawyers seem up in the air about how the argument will fare, and law enforcement officials McGovern spoke with seemed to land to both sides of what is the right thing for the court to do.

“We’re at a crossroads in dealing with the issue of addiction,” Newman-Polk said. “There is a lot of conversation around it being a public health issue, but it’s very difficult to both criminalize behavior and to also say it’s an illness.”

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The Health Policy Commission lowers the benchmark for total health spending in 2018 from 3.6 percent to 3.1 percent. (CommonWealth)

Gov. Charlie Baker is selected as a member of a White House commission charged with tackling the opioid epidemic. (Boston Herald) Baker’s pal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, will head the commission. (Governing)

An aide to longtime state Rep. Louis Kafka of Sharon has opened a political campaign finance account, raising questions about his boss’s future plans. (State House News Service)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A federal judge awards $519,000 in legal fees and court costs to attorneys who successfully challenged a Worcester ordinance dealing with aggressive panhandling. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Salem City Council votes 7-4 to give approval to a Sanctuary for Peace proposal. (Salem News)

Quincy Mayor Tom Koch says he’s barely a Democrat — a claim that may even overstate his commitment to the party — as he gushes over Gov. Charlie Baker, whom he endorsed in 2014. (Boston Herald)

The Fall River City Council, which has a contentious relationship with Mayor Jasiel Correia, is considering an ordinance from Council President Shawn Cadime, who has his eyes on the office, that would require the mayor to notify the council when he is out of town and the president would step in as acting mayor in his absence. (Herald News)

The Sudbury Board of Appeals gave approval to a 40B senior housing project that the developer and officials say will bring the town in compliance with the state’s affordable housing mandate. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A Herald editorial welcomes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s vow to get to the bottom of any Trump-Russia connections given the disarray and disrepute of the House effort under Rep. Devin Nunes. A Globe editorial says Speaker Paul Ryan should replace Nunes or appoint a select House committee to handle the probe.

Some Senate GOP leaders are openly talking about the “nuclear option” to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch if Democrats launch a filibuster but at least three Republican senators expressed reservations about permanently altering the chambers rules. (U.S. New & World Report) The Globe editorial page has dueling takes on Gorsuch, with columnist Joan Vennochi saying he interprets the law so narrowly that it often defies common sense (and decency), while former Mitt Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom says Democrats risk overplaying their hand in opposing him.

North Carolina political leaders reach a deal on a bill that do away with the state’s so-called bathroom legislation, which has led to a boycott of the state by sports teams and leagues. (Charlotte Observer)

A Herald editorial says both Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and Brockton state Rep. Michelle DuBois belong in the “Stupid Club” when it come to ridiculous approaches to the immigration debate.  There was, in fact, no ICE raid in Brockton on Wednesday, as DuBois warned illegal immigrants to “stay indoors” on a Facebook post that drew national attention. (The Enterprise)

With Congress registering a 24 percent approval rating among the public, the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Dorchester finds, two years after opening, that it’s not easy to draw people to a center devoted to understanding of the ways of Washington legislating. Visitor attendance at the center has been less than half of what had been projected. (Boston Globe)

Gold Star father Khizr Khan is still speaking out — and yesterday did so in Boston. (Boston Globe)  

ELECTIONS

With Framingham considering a change to city form of governance with a strong mayor, the MetroWest Daily News looked at mayoral races around the state and found that in 2015, 75 percent of the 24 races went to the candidate who had and spent the most money.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Santander bank will pay $26 million to settle a case involving charges that it handed out high-interest auto loans to borrowers it knew couldn’t afford the payments. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Gov. Charlie Baker says he will direct more than $28 million in “found money” to rate increases in the pay for daycare workers at centers serving low-income children. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The head of UMass Memorial Health Care explains why he is cutting back on inpatient psychiatric beds. (Telegram & Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

At least seven cars were damaged when a pothole opened up on an I-495 bridge over the Merrimack River, prompting Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini to press state officials to replace the bridge sooner than planned. A similar pothole opened up on the bridge in August. (Eagle-Tribune)

Greater Boston takes a look at the ride-hailing service Safr, a competitor to Uber and Lyft which markets itself to women as passengers and drivers.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Chicopee tells its residents that they will need to pay to dispose of more than 35 pounds of trash per week. (MassLive)

Reservoirs are beginning to recover even as the state continues to be mired in a long drought that began last summer. (Patriot Ledger)

Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, rejected a recommendation from his agency’s scientists to ban an insecticide barred for household use but used on crops that they say presents danger to children and farm workers. (New York Times)

MEDIA

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson takes aim at sexist/racist comments by Bill O’Reilly.

Legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, in New Bedford this weekend for the revival of the Lyceum public discussion series that once featured such speakers as Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass, compared President Trump to Richard Nixon in his attempts to make the media the focus rather than his own actions. (Standard-Times)