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Friedman cochairs 7-hour hearing on governor's opioid bill

Cindy FriedmanFriedman

Senator Cindy Friedman and Representative Denise Garlick of Needham cochaired a seven-hour hearing last week about legislation aiming to stem the state's opioid epidemic, which claims at least five lives daily.

The legislation, called the CARE Act and filed by Governor Baker, would expand treatment for individuals suffering from opioid addiction, reduce the overuse of prescription opioids and improve educational programs to inform students about the dangers of opioids.

During Baker's testimony, Friedman emphasized the need for the CARE Act to more directly address access barriers to mental health treatment, especially given the prevalence of individuals in the state with co-occurring conditions of substance-use disorder and mental illness.

"There needs to be a greater focus on mental illness in this bill," the Arlington Democrat she said in a Jan. 19 news release. "Upwards of 40 to 50 percent of individuals seeking treatment for a substance-use disorder also suffer from a mental health condition. Many of these individuals choose to self-medicate with substances to manage their mental illness and do not have a clear pathway to recovery for either diagnosis."

The Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery's public hearing on H.4033, An Act relative to combating addiction, accessing treatment, reducing prescriptions and enhancing prevention, was held Tuesday, Jan. 16.

The committee heard testimony from a wide-ranging group of stakeholders, including government officials, members of the medical community, insurance representatives, social workers, law enforcement officials, hospital workers and individuals in recovery. Baker also testified to show his support for the CARE Act for nearly 90 minutes alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

Some of the proposals in the CARE Act were well-received by many testifiers during the roughly seven-hour hearing, including a provision that updates the state’s partial fill law to allow a pharmacist filling a prescription to dispense the prescribed substance in a lesser quantity than indicated on the prescription if requested by a patient.

Another provision that received strong support was the bill’s directive to the Department of Public Health to expand access to naloxone, a medication commonly known as Narcan that is used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It has been used in Arlington at least since 2014.

In the first half of 2017, opioid-related overdose deaths declined by about 5 percent compared with the same period the preceding year, according to the state health agency. This decrease has been partly accredited to better revival rates because of the increased use of naloxone by emergency personnel. Greater access to naloxone, as proposed in the bill, would enhance prevention tactics in combating the opioid epidemic, stakeholders argue.

Other parts of the bill

Other proposals in the bill were deemed more controversial. One section of the bill would authorize involuntary commitment to treatment facilities for up to 72 hours for an individual who poses a danger to themselves or others due to drug addiction.

Many stakeholders argued that involuntary commitment would unduly infringe upon an individual’s civil liberties. Others criticized the state for not having enough beds available in treatment facilities across the Commonwealth to treat individuals involuntarily committed. These issues were raised several times by testifiers throughout the hearing.

"While this bill serves as a solid first proposal, the Committee plans to take a deeper look at many of its proposals and will likely suggest the inclusion of several additional provisions," Friedman said. "I look forward to working with the Committee in the coming weeks to strengthen this bill."

This news release was published Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018.

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