Author: Ryan Migeed

Opioid crisis: State targets drug abuse problem

MassLive – With opioid overdoses becoming a growing problem in Massachusetts, state officials have established three task forces to look at the issues surrounding opioid addiction.

“The idea is eventually we’re all going to merge each other’s work and put a plan together and have an actual piece of legislation for this session,” said state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, a member of a Special Senate Committee on Opioid Addiction Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Options.

Last year, as overdose deaths spiked, then-Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law reforming insurance policy and creating new reporting requirements related to substance abuse. The law requires insurers to pay for 14 days of inpatient care for acute treatment for addiction without prior authorization. It requires a commission to prepare a list of drugs that can be substituted for opiates and requires pharmacists to dispense and insurers to cover abuse deterrent drugs. Several of the insurance provisions go into effect in October.

This year, under Gov. Charlie Baker, the state has continued to make combating opioid addiction a priority.

The most visible task force is one formed by Baker and chaired by Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. The task force, which includes Attorney General Maura Healey and experts in health care, drug addiction and law enforcement, has held four public hearings around the state, heard from 1,100 people and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. Recovering addicts and bereaved family members told heartbreaking stories as they asked for more treatment beds, better insurance coverage and more education.

The task force is expected to release results by early June.

“We’ll be definitely focusing on prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery recommendations for the governor,” Sudders said. Sudders said will not prejudge the task force’s findings, but she hopes to make recommendations relating to increasing access to treatment and not requiring people to fail at lower levels of care before accessing treatment they need.

“The overall goal is to reduce opioid deaths in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and make sure people get the treatment they need,” Sudders said.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, has convened a separate legislative special committee, chaired by Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster. The committee is tasked with overseeing implementation of the law signed in August and with making additional recommendations to address opioid abuse through prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.

There are also several bills addressing substance abuse already pending in the Legislature.

One, sponsored by Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, would create a drug stewardship program in which a fee is added to the price of addictive narcotics, and that money is used to buy back excess drugs if, for example, someone is prescribed 50 pills but only takes 10.

Lesser wrote a bill to amend a prescription drug monitoring program to require pharmacies to report filling prescriptions for addictive narcotics within a day, rather than within a week. The goal would be to stop people from “pharmacy shopping,” filling one prescription multiple places.

Another bill filed by Lesser would let the state purchase the anti-overdose drug Narcan in bulk, so it could get cheaper prices, then distribute the drug to local police or ambulance departments.

In addition to those two committees, Healey has formed a working group of lawyers and investigators within her office to look at what the attorney general can do.

In an April interview, Healey said she is a looking at strengthening the state’s prescription drug monitoring program and cracking down on “problematic prescribing and dispensing practices.” She wants to focus on education and outreach to young people and families to prevent drug addiction, and to work with insurers and health care providers to ensure access to treatment.

Healey’s office has particularly been working in enforcement. In one case, Healey sued the North Andover-based Center for Psychiatric Medicine for allegedly charging MassHealth patients hundreds of dollars in cash fees for the anti-addiction drug Suboxone, when the medication would have been covered by MassHealth. The center allegedly allowed patients to pay cash to skip therapy sessions and physician visits.

Healey’s office has investigated and prosecuted criminal cases related to heroin trafficking and to people writing fake prescriptions. She requested information from the manufacturer and distributors of Narcan about recent price spikes. She has requested information from insurers about why Boston area drug rehabilitation patients who were affected by the Long Island bridge closure saw claims for treatment beds denied. A division of her office has been researching issues related to insurance coverage, cost trends and parity for physical and behavioral health treatment.

“Everyone needs to be at the table, because every day people are dying here in this state…and if we don’t come together now, it’s just going to continue to get worse and worse,” Healey said.

Sen. Eric Lesser Urges Gov. Baker’s Opioid Addiction Task Force to Recommend Two Key Measures to Fight Statewide Opioid Crisis

Sen. Eric P. Lesser submitted a letter this week urging Governor Charlie Baker’s Opioid Abuse Task Force to include his legislation that would close the pharmacy shopping loophole and establish the bulk purchasing of the anti-overdose drug Narcan in its list of recommendations for a statewide strategy to combat opioid addiction and curb overdose deaths in the Commonwealth.

“I hope you will consider joining with the Senate and including these provisions in your recommendations to Governor Baker,” Lesser states in the letter. “Together, we can combat this crisis with smart policy.”

In late May, the state Senate unanimously adopted a budget amendment filed by Senator Lesser aiming to curb prescription drug abuse and reduce the state’s alarming rate of opioid overdose deaths.

Specifically, the amendment reduces the length of time pharmacies must report to the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) from the current 7 days to 24 hours, as recommended by the Department of Public Health’s Drug Control Program in a February 2015 report, to assist in faster identification of pharmacy shopping and more effective prevention of overdose deaths.

Massachusetts State Police reported 217 suspected heroin overdose deaths during the first three months of 2015, a figure that doesn’t include the state’s three largest cities.

In addition, the anti-overdose drug Narcan has saved hundreds of lives in cases of heroin overdose, but first responders across Massachusetts have noted that its price is skyrocketing with growing demand.

To help municipalities purchase Narcan at a cheaper rate, Senator Lesser filed a bill requiring a study of different bulk purchasing options the state could offer. The bill’s framework was incorporated into the Senate’s FY16 budget proposal, which creates a program for cities and towns to order the lifesaving overdose reversal drug at a discounted rate via statewide bulk-purchasing, and creates opportunities for similar programs for other drugs of public health concern.

“The opioid crisis is destroying neighborhoods, families, and hundreds if not thousands of lives,” Lesser said. “Gov. Baker and I agree that state government must act swiftly in cooperation with first responders on the ground to reverse its direction, and I believe these recommended actions will be of great help to those efforts.”

/ In Press Release / By Ryan Migeed / Comments Off on Sen. Eric Lesser Urges Gov. Baker’s Opioid Addiction Task Force to Recommend Two Key Measures to Fight Statewide Opioid Crisis

Sen. Eric Lesser Sends Letter Urging Gov. Baker’s Opioid Task Force to Recommend Two Key Measures

BOSTON–Senator Eric P. Lesser submitted a letter this week urging Governor Charlie Baker’s Opioid Abuse Task Force to include his legislation that would close the pharmacy shopping and establish the bulk purchasing of the anti-overdose drug Narcan in its list of recommendations for a statewide strategy to combat opioid addiction and curb overdose deaths in the Commonwealth.

“I hope you will consider joining with the Senate and including these provisions in your recommendations to Governor Baker,” the letter states. “Together, we can combat this crisis with smart policy.”

In late May, the state Senate unanimously adopted a budget amendment filed by Senator Lesser aiming to curb prescription drug abuse and reduce the state’s alarming rate of opioid overdose deaths.

Specifically, the amendment reduces the length of time pharmacies must report to the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) from the current 7 days to 24 hours, as recommended by the Department of Public Health’s Drug Control Program in a February 2015 report, to assist in faster identification of pharmacy shopping and more effective prevention of overdose deaths.

Massachusetts State Police reported 217 suspected heroin overdose deaths during the first three months of 2015, a figure that doesn’t include the state’s three largest cities.

In addition, the anti-overdose drug Narcan has saved hundreds of lives in cases of heroin overdose, but first responders across Massachusetts have noted that its price is skyrocketing with growing demand.

To help municipalities purchase Narcan at a cheaper rate, Senator Lesser filed a bill requiring a study of different bulk purchasing options the state could offer. The bill’s framework was incorporated into the Senate’s FY16 budget proposal, which creates a program for cities and towns to order the lifesaving overdose reversal drug at a discounted rate via statewide bulk-purchasing, and creates opportunities for similar programs for other drugs of public health concern.

“The opioid crisis is destroying neighborhoods, families, and hundreds if not thousands of lives,” Lesser said. “Gov. Baker and I agree that state government must act swiftly in cooperation with first responders on the ground to reverse its direction, and I believe these recommended actions will be of great help to those efforts.”

Senator Lesser tours the Zoo at Forest Park

Ray Hershel, Western Mass News

SPRINGFIELD–Remember the tough winter when Springfield’s Forest Park Zoo lost two monkeys? Upgrades have been made, and on Tuesday, state Sen. Eric Lesser toured the zoo with the goal of making it a regional tourist attraction. Last December, one of the zoo’s monkeys died after a fight with other monkeys and just days after, a second monkey died after a circuit breaker tripped, knocking out power and heat to the monkey’s shed. The zoo has a new alarm system in place to take care of the heating problem where the monkeys were living and is making other improvements.

“We’ve been able to install the temperature gauge system. We’re working with the city officials to get the electrical improved from the park into the zoo. It’s consistent facility improvement at the zoo which is nice,” said Meghan Rothschild, a member of the zoo’s board of directors.

Once the electrical system is improved, Rothschild added that the zoo is hoping to install temperature gauging systems in other locations as well to better protect the animals.

Lesser toured the zoo, saying he wants to make the zoo a tourist destination stop in the Pioneer Valley.

“I’m the chair of the tourism committee in the Senate and we want to make sure we look at the zoo as part of the broader picture of attractions that we’re pitching to the region and the country,” Lesser said.

Lesser noted that the key is getting the word out about the zoo, which he calls a gem. And there could be state funding to help.

“It is a tough budget year and it’s hard to find state funds, but there are a variety of state programs that help with tourist promotion,” says Lesser.

Zoo officials are thrilled about additional promotional help,

“We’re excited for the opportunity of what this could mean. and we’re constantly trying to raise awareness and let people know we’re here,” Rothschild explained.

The zoo is now open for the season, seven days a week.

Op-ed: If You Want to Make a Difference, There’s No Place Like Home

One of many special things about Harvard is that its students come from all fifty states and every region on earth. It’s part of what makes our time in Cambridge so unique and enriching.

But something happens to this diverse group over four years. While students enter from all over the country and the world, only about one quarter return to their home state. After Commencement, nearly two-thirds of Harvard graduates move to just four places: New York City, Washington, DC, Boston or California. These are all nice locations, of course, filled with exciting opportunities and interesting things to do. I’ve spent a lot of time in each place. But if you’re still looking for a way to make an impact, consider another option: go home.

Last year, after more than a decade in Cambridge, Washington, DC, and traveling to 47 states and seven countries with Barack Obama, I ran for state senate from my hometown in western Massachusetts. I was in my last semester at Harvard Law School and a tutor in Kirkland House. I was on my way to a top law firm and a very comfortable salary. But my wife, daughter and I put that aside and moved back to my childhood home ninety miles west to jump into a political campaign as a long shot candidate in a crowded primary.

The campaign was an adventure, to say the least. My wife and I cold-called thousands of voters and knocked on thousands of doors. I spent countless hours trying to win over city councilors, county officials, and Democratic committee chairs. I can confidently predict that I’ve attended more pancake breakfasts, pasta nights, ice cream socials, and neighborhood picnics than anyone else in my Harvard class. Although I’m now the youngest member of the Massachusetts Senate, I spent a lot of time at retirement communities: two-thirds of my district’s voters are over fifty.

I had never run for public office before. When I started, I had no campaign organization, no name identification, and faced opponents who had spent decades in the local political system. The region where I’m from is a wonderful place to grow up, but has struggled to keep pace with the red-hot economies in other parts of Massachusetts. What I lacked in longevity I tried to make up for with enthusiasm, a commitment to look at things differently, and a belief that what I learned at the White House and Harvard could be useful at home. Many were eager for a fresh perspective. Others were skeptical. I won by 192 votes.

Now, I have the chance to work every day helping the community where I grew up. The work is not glamorous, but it makes a tangible difference in peoples’ lives: a new program to lower the cost of a life-saving anti-overdose drug, for example, or a pilot program to train workers for careers in precision manufacturing. I put my Harvard education to work each day in the same places where I went trick-or-treating, played catch, learned to drive, and went fishing with my Dad.

You don’t have to work in politics to make a difference in your hometown. If your passion is starting a business, think about doing it where you grew up. You’ll have a built-in customer base (your family and high school friends will be loyal even if your idea is less than perfect). And it will probably be cheaper to get started, too. If you want to work in medicine, having personal knowledge of a community’s needs and history will make you a better clinician and a more thoughtful researcher. If journalism is your calling, your local paper is probably very eager for talented writers and fearless reporters. If you want to act, dance, sing, paint or sculpt, local arts and culture scenes are often the quickest ways to get noticed. People and businesses outside of Washington, Boston, San Francisco, and New York City need talented lawyers, bankers, app designers, professors, accountants, marketers, brokers, programmers and management consultants, too.

Harvard is a place that rewards ambition and exploration. From our first days on campus, we’re encouraged to act boldly, think globally, and travel far. Those are worthwhile traits, and we should hold onto them. And for some of us the boldest and bravest way to have an impact is to go where we are needed most: home.

Senator Eric P. Lesser ’07 J.D. ’15 was a government concentrator in Kirkland House and a Kirkland Resident Tutor. He is currently the youngest member of the Massachusetts Senate. Previously, he worked as Special Assistant to White House Senior Adviser David M. Axelrod and Director of Strategic Planning for the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Lesser secures manufacturing training funds

Chris Maza, The Reminder

BOSTON – The state Senate recently unanimously approved additional funding for Massachusetts Precision Manufacturing Pilot Program proposed by state Sen. Eric Lesser.

Making his maiden address on the Senate floor, Lesser advocated for an extra $500,000 to bump total funding for the program to close to $1.5 million. A portion of that funding will be utilized to continue the program in Western Massachusetts.

“Every member of the Senate voted for it, 39 to 0, so that was a good feeling, certainly,” Lesser told Reminder Publications. “My hope is this is really just the start because we have a big opportunity here and this is just one small program. If this is the only thing we do, it’s going to help quite a lot of people, but the challenge for us now is to continue that and turn this program into a wider series of proposals for Western Massachusetts.”

Lesser said the purpose of the funding was to address the challenge of training a workforce that is able to fit the needs of the precision manufacturers with a foothold in the region. In his speech, Lesser said there would be an estimated 44,000 vacancies in advanced manufacturing in the next 10 years.

“There’s actually quite a lot; there’s actually several thousand vacant jobs in the manufacturing field just in the Pioneer Valley,” he said. “The problem is we don’t have enough people with the skills to take them, so a gap has emerged.”

“I think one of the most important ways for us to grow our economy here, create more prosperity and more opportunity, is to close that gap by investing in training programs and get people up to speed on the latest technology so they can go get jobs where the demand is,” he continued.

Part of a statewide initiative, the local manufacturing pilot program is a collaboration between the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County and a national trade group for those in the industry.

“You want to make sure the training is very current to what the industry is demanding,” Lesser said.

He added the program, featuring 10 to 15 weeklong courses would target unemployed and underemployed people, as well as veterans in need of jobs upon returning home from overseas. Those in the program would have access to mentors, training and job placement assistance.

In his speech Lesser celebrated the region’s strong history of manufacturing and stressed the need for support in bringing those jobs, which can provide livable wages, benefits and employment security, to help an area “left out of the red-hot economy that developed in the eastern part of the state.”

“We have a history and with that an expertise as a result and all that experience and a lot of families that have been involved in trades and in manufacturing for generations,” he said. “There was a period when a lot of those jobs left our area, but where we really established ourselves is in really specialized, really high-tech manufacturing … Those are very, very good jobs and high-paying jobs. The average salary can approach $75,000.”

Massachusetts Senate agrees to state study of Boston-Springfield rail

Shira Schoenberg, MassLive

The Massachusetts Senate has adopted an amendment that would require the state to study the feasibility of developing high-speed rail between Boston and Springfield.

“This study will be a first step toward establishing a rail link between Boston and Springfield,” said State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, who sponsored the amendment. “For our economy in the Pioneer Valley to grow, we need to connect ourselves to the red-hot growth we’ve seen in other parts of the state. Rail will help make that happen.”

The amendment was adopted on voice vote on Thursday as the Senate finished debating its $38.1 billion budget. The budget must still go through a committee of House and Senate negotiators.

The amendment would require the Department of Transportation to look at the costs and economic opportunities related to developing high-speed rail between Springfield and Boston. The study must look at capital costs, operating costs and revenue estimates, projected ridership, required upgrades, environmental impacts, availability of outside funding sources and general benefits to Springfield and the state. The report would be due Dec. 1, 2016.

The amendment was based on a similar bill that Lesser sponsored, which was backed by several Western Massachusetts lawmakers.

Op-ed: Equality for women and girls

In MassLive 5/19/15

Throughout my life I’ve been surrounded by inspiring women – whether it’s my mother, a social worker and scholar, my wife, a solo practicing attorney, or my two sisters who are both pursuing their career passions. I’m also the proud father of a young daughter.

Probably because of this, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how we can make sure our laws promote equal opportunities for all Western Mass residents, including for women and girls.

Unfortunately, workplaces have not kept up with the needs of modern working families. Now is the time to break down the obstacles still standing in the way of progress.

In the Senate, here are a few items I’m working on:

First, I’m proud to co-sponsor the Equal Pay bill, which creates common-sense, modern-day measures that give Massachusetts women an equal footing in the job application process. On average, women in Massachusetts earn just 82 cents per dollar compared to men – a gap that largely persists even when factoring in education level, hours worked and employment sectors.

This bill would enable employees to talk to coworkers about their salaries without fear of repercussions, require employers to provide a minimum salary when advertising job vacancies, and make it illegal to require an applicant to submit his or her salary history. These simple but important measures will ensure that the salaries women earn really do match their skill levels and qualifications.

I’ve also co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to ensure pregnant women and new mothers can be granted reasonable accommodations without worrying about negative consequences. Given that more than half of all pregnant women and new mothers in Massachusetts are in the labor force, this bill will make our workplaces more fair, more humane, and ultimately more productive.

These common-sense accommodations include, for example, allowing pregnant women to use stools at job sites or break for a glass of water. Frankly, it’s shocking that current laws don’t already protect pregnant women taking these steps to care for their health and the health of their child.

Third, I’ve co-sponsored legislation that creates a Commission on the Status of Women and Girls in Hampden County. The volunteer-run Commission would assess all matters regarding the status of women in our area, and recommend policies to state and local agencies and other organizations to help improve their quality of life.

I’ve also encouraged girls to consider careers in science, technology, education and math – areas where women have traditionally been underrepresented. I’m particularly excited that Girls Who Code, an organization aiming to close the gender gap in computer science, is launching its first program this summer in Springfield, where participants will meet women in the tech industry and learn about mobile apps, robotics and computer languages.

My goal is for everyone, regardless of gender, to feel they have an equal shot at reaching their potential and making the most of all of life’s opportunities. Reaching that goal admittedly takes time, but my hope is that these steps will bring us just a bit closer to its realization.

Eric P. Lesser is State Senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District.

Senate adopts Lesser’s anti-pharmacy shopping amendment

Shira Schoenberg, MassLive

The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously adopted a proposal by State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, that would require pharmacies to report opioid drug purchases to a statewide Prescription Monitoring Program within a day, rather than a week.

The goal is to prevent drug addicts from pharmacy shopping, fulfilling one prescription at multiple pharmacies.

“This measure is a crucial step in our overall efforts to fight the opioid crisis here in Massachusetts, which has led to the destruction of families, communities and hundreds of lives,” Lesser said in a statement.

The amendment was co-sponsored by State Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, who chairs the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse and has been a long-time advocate for addressing issues related to drug abuse.

Changing the reporting time was a recommendation of a February report by the Department of Public Health’s Drug Control Program.

The $38 billion budget passed by the state Senate late Thursday also adopted another provision based on a bill filed by Lesser that would allow for the creation of a bulk purchasing system for the anti-overdose drug, Narcan.

In the state budget, senators took numerous steps to address the growing number of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts. They proposed earmarking money to create two new recovery high schools to support teenagers in recovery, and to add 150 new post-detox treatment beds. The budget would put $10 million into a substance abuse trust fund, which focuses on a range of treatment services.

The House also stressed substance abuse prevention in its budget, though in slightly different ways.

According to state statistics, more than 1,000 Massachusetts residents died of opioid overdoses in 2014 compared to 668 in 2012.

The House and Senate versions of the budget will now go to a committee of House-Senate negotiators to iron out the differences.