Senate bill takes aim at opioid crisis


On Thursday, July 19, 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, according to a press release.

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 the fight against this deadly crisis,” said State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, who represents Martha’s Vineyard on Beacon Hill. “The Cape and 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.”

The bill still needs to be reconciled with the House bill and, ultimately, will go to Gov. Charlie Baker for his consideration.

Under the Senate version, someone who receives treatment in an emergency department for an opioid overdose will now have the opportunity to begin treatment for their SUD before they leave the hospital, the release states. The bill requires that all emergency departments and all satellite emergency facilities have the capacity to initiate voluntary SUD treatment, including opioid agonist treatment, after treatment for overdose.

In 2017, opioid-related overdose deaths fell by 8 percent, according to the Department of Public Health (DPH), the release states. The reduction in deaths is partially credited to the widespread use of the lifesaving drug naloxone, commonly branded 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, the release states.