This letter was originally published in the January 29, 2016 issue of the Jamaica Plain Gazette. You can find it online.
We write to update you on the recent substance abuse legislation unanimously passed on Jan. 13 by the Massachusetts House of Representatives. As the chairs of the Joint Committees on Mental Health and Substance Abuse and Health Care Financing, we both played an intimate role in crafting the bipartisan legislation to help those facing substance abuse and addiction.
We have witnessed the opioid abuse crisis affect our entire neighborhood, from Bromley-Heath and Egleston Square to Stonybrook and the Arboretum. Many of us have lost family members, loved ones, friends, co-workers to this disease. We understand how crucial this battle is and that it is our job is to craft policies that help to ensure there are a multitude of treatment options and a robust continuum of care for people seeking help.
Thanks to collaboration between nonprofits, residents, community police officers, and our community health centers, we have made much progress over the last decade. Additionally, investments made by local groups like our Hyde Square and Egleston Square Task Forces, our local CDCs Urban Edge and JPNDC, and many others have made huge differences. While we still face many challenges, this type of local partnership inspires the policy approaches we took and continue to take to combat the opioid crisis at the state level.
The provisions included in the House legislation are a result of discussions with a broad range of stakeholders and community partners. We believe our plan is a balanced and pragmatic approach that will improve our efforts at prevention and increase patient care and access to treatment.
There are several highlights:
- limitations on initial opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply for adults and a seven-day limit for all prescriptions for minors, with appropriate exceptions for chronic pain management, cancer, and palliative care;
- updates to our state’s civil commitment law, commonly referred to as Section 35, and removal of language permitting women civilly committed to be held at the MCI-Framingham correctional facility, ensuring women will be placed in a treatment bed not a prison bed;
- creating a new standard in acute care settings for patients who present in emergency rooms with an apparent overdose and mandates insurance coverage of a substance abuse evaluation, ensuring the proper assessment and discharge of patients who seek voluntary treatment;
- updates to provider training guidelines and the requirement that practitioners must check the prescription monitoring program (PMP) each time they prescribe any opiate and correspondingly note that in the patient’s medical records; and
- improvements to the state’s education standards by requiring all schools have substance use education policies and report their plans to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and that all education materials relative to opiate misuse and abuse be provided at the mandatory head injury safety training program (mandatory for all public schools subject to MIAA rules) and to all student athletes.
Addiction and mental illnesses will not be cured by a single piece of legislation. Our policy plan is intentionally incremental. It builds off prior legislation we passed in 2014, which requires insurers to cover up to 14 days of medical detox and step-down services, and increased funding for substance abuse treatment and services in many budgets.
We recognize the real struggles that individuals have in grappling with this tremendous disease and we realize our work is far from over. Our ultimate goal is to create a safety net for our most vulnerable neighbors, friends, and family members. Together, as the JP delegation, we will continue to advocate on your behalf and work with the members of this community, and our colleagues in the legislature, to make life better for those living with mental illness and addiction.
Yours in Service,
State Reps. Liz Malia and Jeffrey Sánchez