The budget proposed by the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee includes a new program that would allow the state to bulk purchase the anti-overdose drug Narcan, then sell it to cities and towns.
The idea for the bulk purchasing originated in Longmeadow, with a bill filed by State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow.
Lesser said he hopes the program, if it becomes law, can save municipalities money by allowing the state to use its market power to negotiate lower drug prices. But he also believes it has broader implications for other prescription drugs. “It opens the door to applying a bulk purchasing program to a broader array of drugs, if they have public health applications,” Lesser said.
The Senate Ways and Means budget provides $100,000 to administer the bulk purchasing program.
Narcan, the brand name for the drug naloxone, reverses opioid overdoses. It is somewhat unique because municipal government employees like police, emergency medical technicians and firefighters are among the primary buyers of the drug, in addition to doctors, hospitals and treatment centers. As Massachusetts and other states have grown more aware of the opioid epidemic and of Narcan’s usefulness in combating overdoses, demand for the drug has skyrocketed and prices have increased.
But there have also recently been news reports about unusually expensive drugs, like the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, that strain the budgets of private and public insurers. Lesser pointed to hepatitis C drugs as another potential application of a bulk purchasing program. Bulk purchasing of drugs more generally is something Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, has worked on previously.
Rosenberg pointed to Washington and Oregon as states that have successfully implemented bulk purchasing programs for drugs.
“We want to set up a system in Massachusetts, starting in this budget, asking all state agencies to aggregate demand,” Rosenberg said. “We think we can get a better deal.”
The Senate Ways and Means budget also provides $1 million to continue a pilot program that trains and purchases Narcan for bystanders and first responders in 24 cities and towns, one of several steps senators are taking to deal with drug addiction. It directs state agencies, including Medicaid, to look into possibilities for bulk purchasing other prescription drugs. (Gov. Charlie Baker also suggested bulk purchasing in his budget, but for durable medical equipment, not drugs.)
The budget passed by the House does not go as far as the Senate in looking at other drugs, but it would instruct the Department of Public Health to study the feasibility of bulk purchasing Narcan.
As opioid overdose numbers rise, state lawmakers and officials have put renewed attention on opioid addiction over the last couple of years, with several task forces being formed to address the problem.
Lesser said he learned last year while campaigning about the breadth of opioid addiction. He recalled a woman telling him that her adult child was prescribed painkillers after a motorcycle accident, then died a year later of a heroin overdose.
“It wasn’t until then that it really hit me just how human this his, how many families it’s impacting,” Lesser said.
Lesser filed just four bills this term, his first term in office, including the one to set up bulk purchasing of Narcan.
The Senate Ways and Means budget now goes to the full Senate. Once it passes, the House and Senate versions will be reconciled by a team of House and Senate negotiators, before being passed again by both bodies and sent to Baker.