On the Issues: Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

Massachusetts has made significant progress against the overprescribing and misuse of prescription opioid pills, a long neglected problem that fueled today’s crisis.

We have led the nation with forward thinking projects and policies (which you can read about in more detail here) aimed at reducing the misuse of prescription drugs while maintaining access to pain management.

I will continue to focus my efforts on this problem, promoting policies with the following goals in mind:

Reduce Stigma and Encourage Support

The stigma of addiction prevents individuals and families from seeking help, affects the way our public health systems address the problem, and shapes the way communities respond to this crisis.

People suffering with addiction should be treated as equal members of our communities. This is why I regularly attend vigils to mourn our losses, why I have supported “Good Samaritan” laws that encourage anyone to seek out emergency assistance when they witness an overdose, and why I support stronger education within our schools and communities about the nature of addiction.

People suffering with addiction should also be treated as medical patients, not as criminals or moral failures. This is why I have supported the siting of treatment beds in the district I represent, despite some isolated pushback of not wanting “those people” in our back yards. It is also why I have, as far back as 2012, advocated for the use of Taunton State Hospital as an alternative to Correctional facilities for women placed into court ordered addiction treatment, a change that has now become reality.

Be Smart and Tough on Drug Crime

We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. But we must also strike a balance that makes us smart – not soft – on drug crime. While some individuals need treatment over punishment, there are others to whom addiction and death are simply a matter of profit.

I support policies that make every effort to recognize this distinction, for example strong funding for drug courts that move offenders into treatment rather than prison, and allowing recovering drug offenders with non-driving offenses to regain their drivers’ licenses sooner so they can more easily begin their road to recovery.

However, I also defend strict sentencing for high level drug trafficking. I supported the Attorney General’s office in their bid to create a fentanyl trafficking penalty, and I continue to resist proposals to reduce sentences for those who manufacture and sell larger quantities of dangerous drugs.

I will also continue to work on the issue of synthetic drug control, working with local officials and law enforcement on strategies to keep these new and highly dangerous designer drugs out of our communities.

Promote Access to Non-Opioid Pain Management

We can promote prescription opiate safety, without denying relief to chronic pain patients. The idea that we must choose one or the other is false. I have advocated, and the Legislature has passed,nuanced policies to remove prescription pills from our communities without taking them away from pain patients – for example by creating a more robust and convenient takeback program for unused drugs, letting patients choose their own quantity rather than filling large prescriptions to the full quantity, and allowing patients to more comfortably refuse opioid prescriptions.

I am also fighting for greater access to pain management, including opioid and non-opioid options under the proper guidance of pain management experts. I will work with public health officials on models that facilitate referrals and consultations with pain experts without long wait times, and will advocate for better standards from insurance regulators for minimum coverage of alternative pain management options.

Make Treatment Available on Demand

When a person needs medical treatment, they should receive that treatment. This is a simple statement of fact, and a value that we have embraced when it comes to most medical conditions. Yet when it comes to addiction, our health systems create a series of obstacles to seeking care.

I support strong funding for a new region “walk-in” model, where individuals can be immediately referred to the appropriate level of care for substance addiction. This is a model I have advocated for several years, and that has recently been realized through a pilot program.

I also believe there is no such thing as “one size fits all” treatment. This is why I will fight to expand coverage for a full spectrum of addiction treatment services, and against attempts by insurance companies to pick and choose the types of treatment that company executives, rather than patients and their doctors, think are best. We must offer clinicians a complete set of options, and remove the insurance obstacles that are keeping people out of treatment today.