Since I was appointed Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Substance Use, Mental, Health and Recovery in my first term in 2011, I have been working to combat the opioid epidemic. I am proud that the Commonwealth has been leading this fight by passing many first in the nation laws that are now showing results. Despite the progress we have made, much work remains.

In terms of education and prevention, we have introduced school screenings and education programs, require practitioners to receive continuing education on proper prescribing, and are teaching our future doctors as to the dangers of over-prescribing. We have worked to reduce the stigma regarding substance use disorder and now view and treat it as a chronic disease instead of a personal vice. We require the use of our now robust prescription-monitoring program, and also require insurance companies to provide coverage for alternative pain management services as alternatives to opioids.

To improve access to treatment, we now require all insurance carriers to cover up to 14 days of detox and crisis stabilization treatment whenever it is deemed medically necessary, and are working to provide additional coverage. We have increased the number of beds funded through the state budget, including for those who suffer from both a mental illness and substance use disorder, and we have increased access to Medication Assisted Treatment, which is now available in Emergency Departments for those who are admitted after an overdose.

As for harm reduction, i.e. efforts to keep active opioid users alive, we have established a “Good Samaritan” law allowing people to seek help for overdose victims without fear of legal repercussions, made Narcan more widely available, increased access to needle exchanges to prevent the spread of infection among users, and are studying more ways to meet users where they are and help them start on the road to recovery.