Op-ed: Together We Can Fight Substance Abuse
By Sen. Eric Lesser
One of the most urgent problems facing our community is substance abuse, and in particular, opioid addiction. Nearly 1,000 people in Massachusetts died of unintentional opioid overdoses in 2013, more than double the number of motor vehicle deaths and a 46 percent increase over the previous year.
Here in the Pioneer Valley, public safety officials and community leaders have been working hard to fight back, whether through school outreach programs, specialized first responder training, or drug-related investigations and arrests. But addiction and overdose still remain a large problem, especially in Hampden County, where the rate of individuals with prescription drug abuse has exceeded the state average since 2009.
Given the escalating nature of this crisis, I wanted to share some of the work I’ve been doing at the State House to help reverse its direction.
First, I was recently appointed as a member of the Senate’s Special Committee on Opioid Addiction, which will investigate and recommend ways to better prevent, intervene, and treat opioid addiction across the Commonwealth. I’ll be sure to send updates about my work on this committee throughout the year.
Second, we know one of the primary gateways to heroin addiction is via prescription drug abuse. That’s why I’m sponsoring legislation to close the pharmacy shopping loophole, by requiring pharmacies to report their distribution of commonly abused prescription drugs within 24 hours, rather than the current 7 days. This will help pharmacists, public health officials and law enforcement to stop this dangerous practice before it becomes deadly.
Third, I’m sponsoring a bill to examine statewide bulk purchasing of Narcan, a successful anti-overdose drug. Unfortunately the price is skyrocketing, preventing police, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders from getting access to this lifesaving medicine. My bill would help save money by pooling resources and getting a better price from the manufacturer.
I’m also working with my colleagues to support local programs to combat substance abuse. In February, Senator Welch (D-West Springfield), Senator Humason (R-Westfield), Senator Downing (D-Pittsfield) and myself hosted a delegation of Senators led by Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr on a tour of Western Massachusetts. One of our most important stops we made was to the Hampden County Sheriff’s substance abuse treatment facility, where lawmakers learned first-hand about treatment programs with a proven track record of success.
Finally, I’m working with my colleagues in the House and Senate on several additional bills aimed at combating opiate abuse. These include legislation requiring any drug manufacturer operating in Massachusetts to contribute to the Drug Stewardship Program, which provides safe take-back and disposal of unwanted prescription drugs. I’ve also co-sponsored a bill requiring all opiates in Massachusetts to be prescribed electronically to allow for better monitoring.
While substance abuse is a serious challenge, by working together, we can help make our neighborhoods safer and improve quality of life here in Western Mass and across the Commonwealth.
State Sen. Eric P. Lesser represents the First Hampden and Hampshire District. You can contact Sen. Lesser at 617-722-1291.