State Senate Passes Major Legislation Aimed at Addressing Opioid Crisis

Bill improves access to evidence-based treatment and expands education and prevention efforts
State Senator Julian Cyr

From the Office of Senator Julian Cyr:

BOSTON – On Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate passed Senate Bill 2609, providing an additional set of tools to address the opioid crisis and establishing the Commonwealth as a national leader in the fight against this epidemic. Among the provisions included in the bill are increasing access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), exploring tools to reduce harm and save lives, expanding education and prevention efforts, and addressing the high rates of co-occurring conditions of substance use disorder (SUD) and mental illness.

The bill, An Act for prevention and access to appropriate care and treatment of addiction, is the result of  extensive work researching evidence-based best practices and collaborating with healthcare researchers and clinicians, hospitals, behavioral health providers, law enforcement officials, patient advocates and individuals with lived experience, to develop policies to  address the opioid epidemic.

“The Senate opioid bill will give those who work on the front lines of the opioid epidemic critical tools to use in fight against this deadly crisis,” said State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “The Cape & Islands are among the communities hardest hit by the epidemic in the Commonwealth, and it’s never far from my mind how important it is to do more to save lives. This bill takes vital steps to increase prevention through expanding school-based programs that educate our youth about opioid misuse, expand treatment and aftercare for those with substance use disorders, broaden insurance coverage for alternative treatments to opioids for pain management, and offer stricter safeguards against prescription opioid misuse.”

“This important legislation takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to prevention and treatment. We want to make a real difference in combating addiction and to help bring an end to the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. This bill makes treatment more accessible, improves provider education, and cracks down on over-prescription. This effort is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Senate on this issue,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester).

“This legislation is an important next step in the Senate’s continuing commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic on multiple fronts, in order to ultimately help our friends and neighbors who are suffering,” stated Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), the Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I am particularly proud that this bill seeks to address the areas where mental health and substance misuse overlap, as addiction is often the result of unmet mental health needs.”

“Despite efforts to suppress the opioid crisis, families across the Commonwealth continue to lose their loved ones to substance use disorder,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “This legislation builds upon the work the state has done around opioid misuse and prevention and provides another set of tools to reduce harm, save lives, and increase access to evidence-based treatment. We have a major epidemic on our hands and we have to use everything at our disposal to cure this disease.”

“Today we took important steps towards providing better prevention, harm reduction, and proper care and treatment options in our efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. I want to thank all my colleagues, especially Senator Cindy Friedman and Senator Karen Spilka, whose strong leadership and skillful crafting led to the success of this legislation. This comprehensive bi-partisan effort will provide proper care to incarcerated individuals, a pathway to long-term care through emergency room departments, and options for alternative pain-management. In addition, it will hold pharmaceutical manufacturers financially accountable to properly collect and dispose of their pills,” said Senator John F. Keenan (D-Quincy), Senate Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery.

Under this bill, someone who receives treatment in an emergency department (ED) for an opioid overdose will now have the opportunity to begin treatment for their SUD before they leave the ED. The bill requires that all EDs and all satellite emergency facilities have the capacity to initiate voluntary SUD treatment, including opioid agonist treatment, after treatment for overdose.

Opioid agonist treatment commonly includes the use of Buprenorphine, also known as “Suboxone,” which is an evidence-based treatment that eases the symptoms of withdrawal and relieves opioid cravings. It can be administered as early as 8 to 24 hours after a patient’s last exposure to an opioid. This timetable allows treatment to begin in the ED soon after an overdose, when someone with an SUD may be most willing to consider treatment. They will also receive, under the legislation, a direct referral from the ED to a provider in the community who can continue their treatment regimen after they return home.  

In 2017, opioid-related overdose deaths fell by 8% according to the Department of Public Health (DPH). The reduction in deaths is partially accredited to the widespread use of the life-saving drug Naloxone, commonly known as “Narcan,”which blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an opioid overdose. Under the legislation, the DPH is directed to issue a statewide standing order authorizing every pharmacy in the state to dispense naloxone, eliminating the current requirement that each pharmacy obtain an individual authorization.

The bill also brings Massachusetts in line with other states by providing liability protections, including protection from criminal or civil liability, for practitioners who prescribe and pharmacists who dispense naloxone in good faith.

In Massachusetts, nearly 1 out of every 11 individuals dying from opioid-related overdoses has a history of incarceration in state jails and prisons, and in 2015 alone, nearly 50% of all deaths among those released from incarceration were opioid-related. In response, this bill makes significant strides towards extending access to medication assisted treatment in correctional facilities.

The bill also includes several provisions to address dual diagnosis and the high rates of co-occurring SUD and mental illness in the Commonwealth. According to the National Association on Mental Illness-Massachusetts, over 50% of individuals seeking treatment for SUD also suffer from a mental health condition. To ensure that the right kind of treatment facilities will be available to serve every patient who needs treatment, the bill enhances the oversight authority of the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the DPH’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (DPH/BSAS) – the two agencies that license facilities that provide treatment for mental illness and addiction.

In addition, the bill recognizes the important role that recovery coaches and peer specialists play in successful long-term addiction and mental illness treatment by creating two commissions to recommend standards for establishing a professional credential for recovery coaches and peer specialists as an important step toward formalizing the role that each play in the pathway to treatment and recovery

The bill also creates a Substance Use Prevention, Education, and Screening Trust Fund. The fund will help finance the expansion of school-based programs that educate children and young persons on alcohol and substance misuse, and that identify and support children and young persons at risk of alcohol or substance misuse.

To reduce fraud and drug diversion and improve tracking and data collection, the bill requires by 2020 that all prescribers convert to electronic prescriptions for all controlled substance prescriptions.

The bill also updates the state’s partial fill law by clarifying that any patient that decides to partially fill a prescription for a Schedule II controlled substance will not have to pay a duplicate co-pay at the pharmacy if they decide to fill the remainder of the prescription later.

In an attempt to ensure that those experiencing chronic pain have access to the medications they need, the bill establishes a MCPAP for Pain program to provide remote consultations to primary care practices, nurse practitioners and other health care providers who are caring for chronic pain patients.


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