Governor Baker unveils new battle plan to fight opiate addiction


On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker, flanked by Attorney General Maura Healey and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, detailed his new agenda for fighting the opiate addiction epidemic in Massachusetts. The plan is largely based on the recommendations of an 18-member task force created by the governor in February, shortly after he took office.

The task force made 65 recommendations, including enhancing the state’s prescription monitoring program, creating nearly 200 new treatment beds by July 2016, providing resources for schools for drug education, and reforming criminal justice procedures. It also prioritized improving the affordability of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone through bulk purchasing.

Governor Baker said he intends to file legislation within the next 10 days, and he will seek $27.8 million in new funding from the legislature in FY16. Ms. Sudders said that the administration will also allocate $6.7 million in existing funds, to bring the total investment in FY16 to $34.5 million.

Governor Baker said he also plans to conference with other New England governors about making prescription-monitoring data more compatible across borders, to help stop doctor shopping.

Attorney General Healey said she will vigorously pursue doctors and pharmacists who recklessly prescribe or dispense painkillers.

Citing a statistic that nearly 80 percent of heroin addicts started with prescription opioids, the governor implored the deans of the state’s medical schools to focus more on pain management in medical school curriculums.

Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said insurers are committed to expanding coverage for inpatient and outpatient treatments, including the drugs Suboxone and Vivitrol. Ms. Pellegrini said many plans will begin offering methadone coverage on July 1.

In a recent interview on the extent of heroin use on Martha’s Vineyard, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug task Force identified seven Islanders who had died of drug overdoses within the past two years, on or off the Vineyard, and referenced an increasing number of overdoses.