By State Sen. Eric P. Lesser and State Rep. Andy X. Vargas
There’s no sugar-coating it: Massachusetts is facing another emergency in our state’s fight against the opioid epidemic.
Two years after the state legislature created a bulk purchasing trust fund to subsidize first responders’ purchases of the overdose antidote naloxone, the fund has dried up. Now, a box of two doses of Narcan, a brand of naloxone, has nearly doubled in price from $40 to $71.
This price is still lower than the market sticker price, but the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Trust Fund has allowed cities and towns to provide life-saving doses to first responders at a fraction of that cost. This is exactly the wrong time for the fund to run out of money.
The opioid crisis has taken a devastating turn for the worse with a growing black market trade in opioids cut with fentanyl, a drug so powerful that first responders say two doses of naloxone are not enough to save someone from an overdose.
It is now a much bigger problem that requires a bigger solution. That is why we are proposing in this year’s budget negotiations not just a refill of the state’s Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Trust Fund, but an expansion. In addition to cities and towns, organizations that already contract with the Department of Public Health should be able to buy doses of Naloxone at a reduced price.
Nonprofit organizations like addiction treatment centers, halfway houses, homeless shelters and others who regularly serve people struggling with addiction should have access to this life-saving drug.
We are glad that Attorney General Maura Healey’s office plans to provide another $47,000 in settlement funds for the Narcan Bulk Purchasing Program. It’s time to add further resources to the Trust Fund to keep the cost down for our first responders and organizations that provide addiction treatment.
Fatal overdoses in the state are finally dropping, from 2,155 confirmed and estimated deaths in 2016 to 1,977 in 2017. This is thanks in large part to the availability of Narcan to first responders, made possible by the Bulk Purchasing Program.
You don’t step off the gas when you’re closing in on the finish line — and we should not abandon this program just as we are making progress on reducing opioid-related deaths.
It is important to note that this is not only a budget issue; it is a public health issue.
This crisis touches all of us, whether it’s our neighbor whose child died of an overdose or our doctor who wrote a prescription that sparked an addiction.
The damage of this man-made disaster is especially severe in Gateway Cities, several of which we represent.
The Haverhill Police Department, where Rep. Vargas is from, was one of the biggest purchasers of naloxone last year.
The City of Chicopee, which Sen. Lesser represents, also participates in the bulk purchasing program.
Much more must be done to support those struggling with addiction and their families. This includes more resources for education for young people on the perils of new drugs and the threat of addiction. It requires a larger investment in sober homes and treatment beds across the state, including those provided by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department at the Western Massachusetts Recovery and Wellness Center and the Essex County Sheriff Department’s Detox Units.
But continuing our commitment to the Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Program is an important start.
We urge our colleagues to make this life-saving program a budget priority. If we’re serious about placing people into treatment, the first step is keeping them alive.
No one should have to live in fear that a relapse — while they are working hard to get better — could end their life. Narcan remains the single best solution to eliminating that possibility.
Eric P. Lesser, of Longmeadow, is senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District, and serves as co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies. His legislation helped create the state’s Narcan bulk purchase program in 2015. Andy X. Vargas is a Haverhill native and serves as the State Representative for the 3rd Essex District.