Senator Friedman Co-Chairs 7-Hour Public Hearing on the Governor’s Opioid Bill

BOSTON — On Tuesday, Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) and Representative Denise Garlick (D-Needham) co-chaired the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery’s public hearing on H.4033, An Act relative to combatting addiction, accessing treatment, reducing prescriptions, and enhancing prevention (“The CARE Act”), filed by Governor Charlie Baker.

The CARE Act seeks to stem the Commonwealth’s opioid epidemic, which claims at least five lives every day. The legislation 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.

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. Governor Baker also testified to show his support for the CARE Act for nearly 90 minutes alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

During the Governor’s testimony, Senator 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,” said Senator Friedman. “Upwards of 40-50% 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.”

Some of the proposals in the CARE Act were well-received by many testifiers during the roughly 7 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 (DPH) to expand access to naloxone, which is a medication commonly known as Narcan that is used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. In the first half of 2017, opioid-related overdose deaths declined by approximately 5% compared with the same period last year according to the DPH. This decrease has been partially accredited to better revival rates due to the increased use of naloxone by EMS. Greater access to naloxone, as proposed in the bill, would enhance prevention tactics in combatting the opioid epidemic, stakeholders argue.

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,” said Senator Friedman. “I look forward to working with the Committee in the coming weeks to strengthen this bill.”