Author: Ryan Migeed

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.

Sen. Eric Lesser discusses urban issues with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh at Boston City Hall

By Shira Schoenberg, The Republican

BOSTON – State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, met Tuesday with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, in an attempt to build relationships across Massachusetts’ east-west divide.

“It’s important for us in Western Mass. to expand those types of links and build those types of relationships,” Lesser told The Republican/ “The default is for it to be all about Boston, so any opportunity we can get for leaders in the eastern part of state to hear what our concerns are is an opportunity we should jump on.”

Bonnie McGilpin, a spokeswoman for Walsh, said, “The Mayor enjoyed meeting with Senator Lesser today and looks forward to collaborating with him on a number of valuable priorities for the future of Massachusetts.”

Western Massachusetts residents and politicians often complain that state resources are directed primarily toward the eastern part of the state. The issue has boiled up again recently with debate over whether, if Boston wins a bid for the 2024 Olympics, the games should be concentrated in Boston or should be spread statewide. This could affect, for example, which transportation projects are prioritized in the coming years.

Lesser said the topic of the Olympics only came up generally, in the context of ensuring that all parts of the state are treated fairly.

Lesser said he talked to Walsh about urban issues such as homelessness and economic development, and how lessons learned in Boston can be applied to Springfield, Chicopee and other cities in Western Massachusetts. They talked about Walsh’s experience growing the technology sector in Boston and how to incorporate the technology industry into a city’s economy. Lesser said Walsh was eager to learn more about communities in Western Massachusetts.

“He was very enthusiastic about wanting to continue a dialogue,” Lesser said.

Walsh also offered Lesser advice from his time in the state Legislature – for example, about how to stay in touch with constituents. Walsh was a state representative from 1997 to 2014, when he left the House to become the mayor of Boston.

Lesser, a former White House aide under President Barack Obama, won a seat in the state Senate in 2014 in his first bid for elected office.

Lesser said his first conversation with Walsh came when Walsh, a Democrat, called Lesser to congratulate him on election night. Tuesday’s meeting at Boston City Hall was set up by Walsh chief of staff Daniel Koh, who went to college with Lesser.

Sen. Eric Lesser Tours Ludlow Elementary Schools

LUDLOW – Sen. Eric P. Lesser (D-Longmeadow) visited three Ludlow elementary schools late last week to learn about their needs, vision, and long-term goals.

“I was inspired by all the students I met today—each school has its own unique energy that speaks highly of Ludlow and Western Mass as a whole,” Sen. Lesser said. “I learned a lot on my tour – and will bring those lessons back to Beacon Hill.”

The tour took place last Friday, and included stops at Chapin Street Elementary, Veterans Park Elementary, and East Street Elementary. Accompanying the Senator were Ludlow Superintendent Todd Gazda, Ludlow Education Association President Brian Bylicki, School Committee Member Jake Oliveira, and IT Specialist Anne Marie Corrieri.

Later in the day, Sen. Lesser filed four bills aimed at improving quality of living and stimulating economic growth in western Massachusetts.