James L. Baker, M.D., M.P.H. - Parent, Speaker, Physician
Dr. James Baker served at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School as faculty in emergency medicine and is now affiliated with UMass Medical School. While at Hopkins, he received his Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology as a Mellon Foundation Scholar. Dr. Baker also completed a Fellowship through Harvard Medical School at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Mass General Hospital in Pain and Palliative Care. Since then he has cared for thousands of patients with terminal illness and their families and continues to provide end-of-life care at Merrimack Valley Hospice of the Home Health Foundation in Lowell, Massachusetts. Dr. Baker also served in the U.S. Army with service in Vietnam during 1972 and 1973.
Sharing a message of hope, offering guidance and support
Starting on the evening of his son’s death, Dr. Baker decided to share the story of Max’s journey struggle with addiction and his recovery. He revealed in Max’s obituary the truth of Max’s fight to overcome heroin addiction and how he had found recovery before his sudden, fatal relapse. In lieu of flowers, he asked that friends honor Max’s life by contributing instead to a Foundation for Addiction Recovery established that night in Max’s name. Within days, Dr. Baker appeared on local radio stations, webcasts, podcasts, and in newspaper columns. He spoke at civic addiction recovery meetings, community forums, schools, and individually with people still struggling with addiction and families who had lost a loved one. Dr. Baker discussed how Max became addicted, his efforts to stop, and what he felt would help others find and sustain recovery.
Jim Baker in the News
Dr. Baker presenting to a community audience at “Opiate Awareness: Fighting Addiction Before It Starts” in Holden, Massachusetts.
October 27, 2017
'All of us are susceptible'- Featured in the Lowell Sun
Dr. Baker speaking to PBS journalist Miles O’Brien about the opioid addiction, the aftermath of overdose death in the family, and what can be done
2017 interview for PBS NewsHour report
Since his son’s death, Dr. Baker has dedicated himself to preventing addiction and overdose through teaching, writing, and advocacy. He also serves as a physician consultant every week to the newly formed Massachusetts Consultation Service for the Treatment of Addiction and Pain (MCSTAP), a state funded service that provides guidance, free of charge, to all physicians and nurses in Massachusetts who care for patients with addiction or complex pain.
Within weeks, Dr. Baker shared his son’s story with National Public Radio, which aired the segment first in New England and then nationwide on “Morning Edition.” He agreed to several to have the story presented on Boston television stations and later on “PBS NewsHour,” which was shown on national television and then on BBC worldwide. Dr. Baker and his son Max’s story was included at the “The Opioid Crisis: Governor’s Roundtable” conference at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2017. He shared in a presentation about safer opioid use at the American Society of Anesthesiologists national meeting in Boston in 2017, a study which won first prize for poster presentations. The story was presented in Anesthesiology News so that all could learn from the tragedy. He also presented what he learned in “Tragedy as Impetus for Change” at the Uniformed Services and Veterans Affairs Anesthesiologists meeting in San Francisco in 2018. In June, 2019, Dr. Baker’s work in advocacy was featured in the American Medical Association’s “End the Epidemic” campaign, highlighting physician leadership during the opioid crisis.
About The Maxwell F. Baker Foundation
When Max died, his family established the Maxwell F. Baker Foundation for Addiction Recovery, a non-profit entity with the goals of providing prevention through education and family support for people at risk, identifying effective treatment of opioid addiction, and advocacy for public policies that can build meaningful change. Even while Max was still addicted, he was open and honest with his father. He knew he might die one day from his illness and said “That could happen, Dad. If it does, you have to go on – you need to take care of the other kids and take care of your patients. You need to keep going and care for others.” Donations from caring citizens help support development of treatment options, and Max’s family members continue to work with individuals seeking help, families troubled with addiction in a loved one, and coalitions determined to help find answers. Max’s father provides education at schools, community events, and conferences both locally and across the country. He and other family members continue to work with legislators at the state and national level to share what they’ve learned from Max’s journey through addiction, recovery, and his death following a relapse after surgery. The Foundation’s mission is to save lives and keep families together.
What can you do to help?
If you have a loved one with addiction or opioid use disorder (heroin, fentanyl, prescription opioids: Always have narcan immediately available and know how to use it. (available in most states over the counter, or by prescription in other states). This can be immediately life saving but must be administered very quickly (nasal spray similar to afrin – one spray can save a life!) Ask your loved one to never use drugs alone – until they can find treatment and recovery, they need to have narcan available and someone willing to give it immediately if there is an overdose. Seconds count! Know how to get into the bathroom or bedroom immediately if you think an overdose has happened – sound of a fall, sudden silence – unlock the door if you can, break it down with a large hammer if you have to – within minutes, it will be too late if you can’t get in! Search for effective medical help for addiction in your area – medication assisted therapy (such as suboxine) is by far the most effective treatment, and you need to find a prescriber or facility that can help Be ready 24 hours a day to transport your son or daughter to a facility when they are ready to seek help – it may happen at 3:00 in the morning or on Christmas eve – and when they are ready to seek help, support them and take them for care immediately Reach out to your state or local leaders and share personal stories of addiction in the family and ask for support – civic leaders listen to and respect personal stories Write to your newspaper and support change that helps patients find recovery Contact your leaders in congress (they all have email contacts, and visit their home districts) – share your story and they will listen, they have the power to make change Ask your doctor! “can you help me? I want to stop using drugs.” “can you help my child? I am afraid he will die from an overdose.” the answer should be “yes!” if your doctor can’t or won’t help, ask for a referral to someone who will – and consider asking your doctor “please learn how to treat addiction – this is the number one threat to Americans under age 50, and we need your help!”
Visit these links to find out more about organizations Dr. Baker supports
American Society of Addiction Medicine
Univ of Mass Medical School
Mass Medical Society