Category: Op-ed

Narcan bulk purchase program needs a refill

In Masslive 4/23/18

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.

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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.

Ahead of Senate vote on Clean Energy Bill, Massachusetts is on the cusp of an energy revolution

In Masslive 3/20/18

Massachusetts is on the cusp of an energy revolution that could serve as a model for the nation in addressing climate change while creating new 21st century jobs.

For the first time, New England’s electrical grid operator is proposing that the region produce more electricity from wind power than natural gas. The market for renewable energy sources, especially solar and wind, has exploded in the region, meaning gas will soon be a thing of the past for New England.

This is good news, not only for the environment but for thousands of manufacturing and engineering workers across Massachusetts.

The clean little secret about renewable energy sources is that they create jobs. And not just any jobs, but a multitude of high-paying careers ranging from engineering and construction to scientific research and sales.

Clean energy also helps companies and local cities and towns save money on energy bills each year.

Companies like Secure Energy, with an office in East Longmeadow, assists businesses in becoming more energy efficient, from retrofitting their buildings to finding and using electricity providers that can cut the cost of keeping their lights on.

Meanwhile, the town of East Longmeadow struck a deal with Altus Power America to purchase “net metering credits” in a solar farm in neighboring Hampden and sell back the energy created by the farm to the electric grid. The town is expected to save up to $125,000 a year on its energy bills as a result.

The deal, known as a Net Metering Credit Purchase Agreement, was made possible by pioneering directives from the Department of Public Utilities as far back as 1981 and ultimately enacted by our state legislature in the 2008 Green Communities Act.

Massachusetts has long been at the vanguard of state-level actions to address climate change, and that leadership is more important now than ever before. When President Trump pulled America out of the Paris Agreement, Massachusetts joined California, New York, Washington other states in the U.S. Climate Alliance to commit to meeting the emissions reductions in the Agreement.

The state Senate will soon be voting on an omnibus energy bill, crafted under the leadership of Senators Marc Pacheco and Mike Barrett, that makes those commitments concrete. Among many ambitious objectives, the bill sets aggressive new goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, establishes a statewide clean fuel standard and creates a Clean Energy Workforce Development Fund to increase access to jobs in the clean energy sector.

Fighting climate change and growing our economy are not two conflicting goals. In reality, one supports the other.

Researching new technologies at UMass-Amherst and WPI and MIT — and building the parts for future solar panels and storage batteries in Ludlow and Chicopee and Springfield — will not just set an example for the country on how to fight climate change.

It will help Massachusetts retain its leadership in the high-tech economy, providing opportunities for economic growth and development for decades to come.

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Eric P. Lesser, of Longmeadow, is senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District, serves as co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, and leads Millennial Outreach for the state Senate.

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Millennials rising: Young people fuel renaissance

In Masslive 2/11/18

While division and strife mark the national news, the news here in Western Massachusetts is about coordination and collaboration – especially among an emerging group of young leaders in government, business and the nonprofit sector who are tackling our region’s longtime challenges with new energy and fresh perspectives.

As co-chair of the state Senate’s Millennial Engagement Initiative, I’ve traveled to every corner of our commonwealth to meet with young people who are stepping up to lead. Millennials, in particular, are ready to reject old dogmas and divisions and to, instead, focus on solving problems through collaboration and building bridges across diverse viewpoints and cultures.

Western Massachusetts has been at the vanguard of this change. Two Western Massachusetts cities are led by millennials: Alex Morse in Holyoke and Will Reichelt in West Springfield. A near majority of the Springfield City Council is now under 40. This fall, Chicopee elected a new School Committee member and two new city councilors, each in their early 20s.

These young leaders are already changing their communities and bringing forward new ideas. Last month, the Springfield City Council increased the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, after a group of young people organized a campaign to change the law. Chicopee is exploring options to improve broadband Internet service, and both Holyoke and West Springfield are better leveraging technology to make government more transparent and responsive. Young people are driving each of these initiatives.

By bringing a more activist perspective to municipal government, millennials are also expanding the circle of people involved in government decision-making, offering new pathways for women and minorities to enter public service, regardless of age.

Our business community is similarly benefiting from an emerging generation of young entrepreneurs who are creating jobs and adding vibrancy to the economy here in Western Massachusetts.

Companies like Paragus Strategic IT, owned by Delcie Bean, who is 31, are creating new technology jobs and experimenting with new management models, like employee ownership sharing, that have the potential to become models nationwide. Tech Foundry, another initiative launched by Bean, is successfully training unemployed and high-school-aged individuals for IT jobs in local companies, and has received plaudits (and grants) from leaders in Boston.

Iron Duke Brewing, founded by young brew masters Mike Marcoux and Nick Morin, both in their 30s, has become a must-stop for craft brewery enthusiasts, expanding to dozens of bars and package stores in just a few years of operation.

These are just a few examples of many millennial-run businesses from across Western Massachusetts, revitalizing our cities and towns. In 2018, I’m confident we will see even more millennials here open new businesses and create new jobs.

It’s a good thing we have so many young people willing to step up, because the next several years, while filled with opportunity, will continue to present challenges that require creativity and outside-the-box thinking.

A lack of connectivity is putting a ceiling on our region’s growth, and, if we don’t make some substantial changes, we will continue to fall further and further behind the Greater Boston area.

An opiate epidemic is hollowing out our families and burdening our health and justice systems. Persistent economic inequality is limiting our region’s full potential, and too many areas of Western Massachusetts remain too segregated and too isolated from each other.

Luckily, our region is blessed with many institutions bringing people together to take on these challenges. And again, millennials are stepping up and taking leadership roles.

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts offers training for young women interested in running for public office. Valley Venture Mentors is supporting young entrepreneurs who want to start their business here and Leadership Pioneer Valley is providing a forum for young leaders in business, nonprofits, and politics to come together to tackle these common challenges with one voice.

This is how millennials solve problems, and this is how our region’s young leaders will make lasting change for our communities.

This is the challenge of 2018, as MGM Springfield opens its doors, CRRC Massachusetts comes on line, and new rail service connects Springfield with Hartford and New Haven. Now is the time to take these very important gains even further, by making sure we lock-in new opportunities and new jobs for generations to come.

As one young man said at our millennial discussion at the Edward Kennedy Institute in Boston, “If you give young people opportunity, they will create opportunity.”

Yes, they will. With a renewed spirit of collaboration and optimism, our region’s emerging leaders will help turn these developments into real benefits for our families and communities.

But doing that will take time, and it will require the determination to see good ideas through to implementation. It will also demand the participation of young people unafraid to stand up and lead.

Eric P. Lesser, of Longmeadow, is senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District, serves as co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, and leads Millennial Outreach for the state Senate.

The Opioid Epidemic: ‘We need to double down on our response and do even more in 2018’

In Masslive 1/18/18

Imagine your daughter is addicted to prescription opioids after treating injuries from a car accident. After haggling with insurance companies and hounding state agencies, you have finally secured her a bed in a recovery center — only to be told that the nearest available center is 90 miles east and will only provide a few days of care.

In many cases, parents are relieved when their own children get arrested, because it offers their only hope for detox. This is a disgrace for our commonwealth; we have a moral obligation to fix it.

For two decades, big pharmaceutical companies peddled powerful painkillers, knowing full well their deadly potential. They looked the other way — and profited handsomely — while highly addictive pills flooded our streets, to the point that more than a third of U.S. adults were prescribed opioids by 2015.

Now, we’re witnessing the devastating results: families hollowed out across our country and in Western Mass, where we have felt a disproportionate share of our Commonwealth’s opioid epidemic.

Fortunately, there was a bright spot of news when new data showed the number of overdose deaths in Massachusetts fell 10 percent in 2017.

The reduction is attributed in part to the wide availability of Narcan, an overdose-reversal drug, and to the fact that Massachusetts was the first state to limit the number of opioid pills doctors can prescribe per prescription. Working to implement both those policies has been among the most important work I’ve done in the Senate.

But these gains are modest compared to the scope of the overall problem, which is why we need to double down on our response and do even more in 2018.

First, we must continue to expand the number of treatment beds available, specifically in Western Mass., and give health professionals new tools to require people to receive treatment when they pose a danger to themselves or others. The first response to substance abuse cannot be a police officer and a jail cell, it must be a recovery coach and a treatment bed.

We must also continue to expand Narcan access by allowing pharmacies to stock it and disburse it over-the-counter.

I was happy to see these measures, and many others, included in new legislation proposed by Governor Baker. I’m committed to working collaboratively with local officials and the Baker Administration to see these solutions implemented. But we must do much more.

I have also introduced a bill, S. 543, to strengthen these measures by requiring health insurers to cover medication-assisted treatment and cap the total out-of-pocket co-pays for methadone treatment programs. Insurance companies, which are so rarely willing to pay, should be required to cover this medically necessary treatment.

Alternative pain management techniques, such as acupuncture, should also be explored as alternatives to prescription painkillers. And we must continue to expand opioid addiction education in our schools, to spot and prevent abuse before it’s too late.

Ultimately, the pharmaceutical companies that caused this mess must be held accountable. We are learning more and more about how they knowingly marketed life-threatening products and launched campaigns to convince doctors that these drugs were not as harmful as the research warned, making billions of dollars of profit in the process.

In response, lawsuits are cropping up all over the country, including in Greenfield. I hope these suits are joined by the Attorneys General in Massachusetts and other states across the country.

We will never be able to get back the lives lost or fully repair the families destroyed by this scourge. But the opioid crisis, while daunting and cruel, is solvable if we marshal the will and the focus to fix it.

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State Sen. Eric P. Lesser is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire.

Supporting local businesses this holiday season supports local jobs

In Masslive 12/13/17

Holidays are usually a rush — managing cook times so you don’t burn the latkes or the cookies, taking the kids to the Nutcracker and the school holiday parties, and, of course, getting the shopping done.

It’s this last one I want to discuss.

I hope that, in the rush of the holiday season, you’ll remember to stop at a small business for some of your shopping.

Supporting small businesses supports jobs in our community.

In Massachusetts, there are more than 600,000 small businesses, which together employ about half of the Commonwealth’s private workforce.

Across the country, small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees) make up 99.7 percent of all U.S. employers, according to 2012 data from the Small Business Administration.

Small businesses are responsible for 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs — so “shopping small” may even support the job you want to apply for one day.

State government can play a big role in supporting these businesses and helping them stay competitive in an increasingly globalized marketplace. There are resources we can provide to make state rules and guidelines easier to navigate. Many regulations turn into roadblocks, and complicated licensing and permitting requirements hinder growth when they should be enhancing competition.

State government can and should be a partner.

One example is the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network’s Western Regional Office, which provides free one-on-one business advising to help existing small businesses develop growth plans and financial forecasting charts.

That is why I’ll be touring a handful of local businesses with the East of the River Five-Town Chamber of Commerce this month. I want to hear directly from small business owners about the issues they face, including the regulatory environment, and how the state can be more responsive to their needs.

Among the companies I’ll be visiting are Robert Charles Photography in East Longmeadow (great for your family Christmas card), Delaney’s Market in Longmeadow (the perfect stop to build your New Year’s cheese board) and Pop’s Biscotti and Chocolate in Wilbraham (which makes a great mid-shopping snack break).

Visiting these small businesses helps me get a sense of their day-to-day pressures and what they are doing to stay competitive in Western Mass.

Especially at a time when the whole state is buzzing with the hope of bringing Amazon’s second headquarters to Massachusetts, we need to remember that our local retailers are driving our state’s economy.

The consolidation of mom and pop shops into big box stores has taken a wrecking ball to our local economies. Through tax incentives and other means, our State Legislature should ensure that companies like the many family-owned small businesses, handed down from generation to generation, can still survive — and thrive — in our communities,.

Supporting small businesses is also vital to keeping our young talent here. How wonderful would it be if families saw their young college grads not just during the holidays a few times a year, but all year round? Creating and sustaining more job opportunities here would enable more of our young people to work and raise their families here, instead of moving away for better job prospects elsewhere.

So, this holiday season I urge you to patronize our local businesses — such as the many local craft makers and artisans selling their wares at the Downtown Springfield Holiday Market in The Shops at Marketplace.

And, whichever holiday you celebrate this season, I hope it is happy, healthy and filled with family and friends.

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State Sen. Eric P. Lesser is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, and leads Millennial Outreach for the Massachusetts State Senate. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.

How we’re fighting our Western Mass. ‘hunger epidemic’

In Masslive 11/20/17

Every morning, a truck pulls up to Atlas Farm in Deerfield. It gets loaded up with fresh vegetables, and heads to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Another Western Mass farm, Our Family Farm in Greenfield, provides fresh milk to food banks across the state.

This partnership, the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), has supported our local farmers, linked diverse communities like Hatfield and Springfield together — and helped feed thousands of our neighbors who go hungry every month.

“Hunger is a hidden epidemic in this country,” Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, has said.

And he’s right.

But the problem is visible if you look hard enough here in Western Mass. The average number of people in Hampden County seeking extra food each month because they can’t afford enough is more than 44,000. In Hampshire County, it is more than 15,000, according to data from the Food Bank of Western Mass.

A third of these are children.

In addition to children, another vulnerable group is the elderly, many of whom rely on Meals on Wheels, a federal food delivery program. Cuts to this program in the federal budget compound our region’s hunger epidemic — and make it that much more urgent for Massachusetts to fill the gap for our families.

That is why fighting hunger is so important to me.

Earlier this year, Rep. Peter Kocot and I sponsored budget amendments in the House and Senate to increase funding for MEFAP and provide two million more meals than last year. MEFAP is responsible for a fourth of the food that is distributed by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, serving as both a vital source of income for our local farmers and a lifeline to the hungry and homeless in Massachusetts.

I am also cosponsoring a bill introduced by Sen. Sal DiDomenico to close the “SNAP gap.” Many who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Massachusetts do not know they are eligible, and either go hungry or go to soup kitchens instead of receiving the help they need to pay for groceries.

This legislation would create a common application so that those applying for MassHealth could at the same time apply for the nutrition assistance they need.

Fortunately, there is plenty you can do in addition to the work being done in our state Legislature.

Start a food drive at work. Donate or volunteer for Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen in Chicopee or Rachel’s Table in Springfield. Bring clothes and food to the Springfield Rescue Mission.

On Monday, Nov. 20, come participate in the eighth annual “Monte’s March,” a community walk through Springfield, Chicopee and up to Northampton to raise money and awareness for tackling food insecurity in our region.

We have an obligation to help those who need help the most — and it is easier than you think, once you get started.

This Thanksgiving, as we prepare to enjoy a meal with loved ones, I hope you’ll spare a thought for those who need a meal themselves — and I hope you’ll spare some food for them, too.

State Sen. Eric P. Lesser is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, and leads Millennial Outreach for the Massachusetts State Senate. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.

Greater Springfield could be home to future laser industry

In Masslive 10/19/17

A hyper-concentrated beam of light, operated by a highly-trained laser technician, can zap rust off metal, return eyesight to 20/20 and help military scouts detect landmines.

This is not science fiction or even future science; this is the world in which we are currently living. Laser technology is pivotal to developing countless industries that are reshaping our economy and our way of life, from driverless cars to the facial recognition software used in the latest iPhone.

The Greater Springfield region is known for many manufacturing “firsts.” We also know that Springfield sits in a strategic location — the “Crossroads of New England” — between the country’s first major ports at Boston to the east, Albany to the west and New York to the south.

But did you know that we are also living in the country’s “Laser Corridor”?

Springfield Technical Community College has one of the premiere photonics (or “lasers”) training programs in the state and even the country. And it’s one of the major stops on the I-90 corridor between the programs at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

In other words, Springfield is perfectly positioned to be an essential site in the growing laser industry. And, with the right investments, policy choices and public-private partnerships, we can make sure our region seizes this opportunity and becomes the “Silicon Valley of Lasers.”

In April, I joined industry representatives and Professor Lionel Kimerling, director of MIT’s own photonics program, to see STCC’s program in action.

I watched as students in STCC’s Photonics Lab used lasers to shave blocks of titanium and even engrave a beer glass with my name as a parting gift. They worked under the direction of Professor Nicholas Massa, an inspiring instructor who previously told Masslive, “The applications are huge. Aerospace, biomedical, automotive — you name it, anything that’s manufactured there’s probably a laser involved in that process.”

Last month, STCC announced that it is working with MIT on proposing a state-of-the-art photonics “factory” on STCC’s campus in Springfield. MIT launched the first Photonics Education and Practice Factory this past spring, and Quinsigamond Community College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute — both in Worcester — are already planning the second.

While there is much talk nationally about the decline of manufacturing, we are poised to buck this trend in Massachusetts because of the quality of our workers and the strength of our institutions.

But we need to be proactive and strategic on a number of overlapping fronts. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center provides investment in cutting-edge technologies just like this. It needs our support, and steady state funding, to continue building on these innovations and enabling Massachusetts to be the first to find them.

We also need to invest in vocational education — like the program at STCC — that trains the workers who will be implementing these innovations. That training must adapt to an industry that is changing by the day.

This is not a partisan issue. Earlier this month, Gov. Baker announced $7 million in funding for advanced manufacturing projects through the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative. This is welcome news.

But we also need to champion our region and the resources we have here. Most of this funding went to projects in Eastern Massachusetts; we need to make sure more of it comes here. Placing Springfield at the center of the “laser” industry’s development will create new jobs and new businesses for many generations to come.

Photo credit: Dan Glaun, Masslive

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State Sen. Eric P. Lesser is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, and leads Millennial Outreach for the Massachusetts State Senate. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.

Civics and news media literacy are vital components of a 21st century education

In Masslive 9/13/17

Last year, in a nationwide poll, only a third of adults could name all three branches of government.

According to some test results, 45 percent of 12th graders were unable to explain how citizens could change a law.

Our schools prepare our students for college, for work and for adulthood. But we have been missing a vital component in our students’ education: the role schools play in educating the citizen.

Increasing rates of cynicism among young people are leading to a historic lack of trust in our institutions. Pew Research tells us that Millennials distrust institutions more than any generation before them did.

As we rethink our needs in public education, civics must be considered one of those needs. That’s why I’ve been working with a group of my colleagues in the Legislature, including Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler of Worcester and State Representative Jay Kaufman of Lexington, on a comprehensive approach to restoring civics education in Massachusetts.

But civics is only half of the solution. Students also need to have the ability to critically examine information, to know where their information is coming from and whether their sources are reliable or not.

News media literacy is the second half of this critical education in civics.

That is why I introduced legislation to encourage school districts to teach civics and news media literacy.

The legislation directs the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to establish voluntary pilot programs to test the curriculum on news media literacy and include a civics participation project at least once in elementary school and at least once in high school.

Now is the perfect time to have this conversation, as researchers, educators and advocates come together to rewrite the MCAS for the 21st century.

What should a 21st century education look like?

I think many would agree that a modern education requires being able to grapple with tough questions – and being able to cite your sources. It means being able to tell the difference between “fake news” and fearless reporting – and putting more value on the latter.

Civics and news media literacy are vital components of this “21st century education.”

Take, for example, a survey of young people conducted by Tufts’ Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. It found that young people who recalled memorable civic education experiences were more likely to vote, to form political opinions and to know campaign issues.

Importantly, civics education does not lead to partisanship.

While it made the students more likely to vote, it did not make them more likely to support one party or one candidate over another.

Put simply, civics education makes students better citizens.

School was never meant just to prepare students for careers; it was also meant to turn students into lifelong learners.

What use is an education if our students cannot use it to make the world a better place? To challenge old ways of doing things and use their talents to the fullest?

This, after all, is what I think a “21st century education” should be all about.

Sen. Eric P. Lesser is the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, and leads Millennial Outreach for the Massachusetts State Senate. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.

Patent trolls are trolling startups in Massachusetts — and we need to change that

In Masslive 8/11/17

In a recent episode of the HBO series “Silicon Valley,” Richard Hendricks is getting his tech startup off the ground when he comes face to face with a patent troll: an unscrupulous lawyer who claims Richard’s new company is committing copyright infringement.

The lawyer knows his claim is bogus, but also knows Richard would have to pay him in a legal settlement to avoid battling it out in court.

This is not just the stuff of TV fiction. This is real life, and it’s costing billions of dollars in frivolous lawsuits and lost business opportunities.

With an average lawsuit costing $1.6 million, the deceptive actions of patent trolls add up quickly. In 2015 alone, trolls robbed companies of $7.4 billion. One study puts the number much higher, costing companies $29 billion per year.

Fortunately for Richard, he outsmarted the troll and got his case dismissed. But too many of our small businesses and young entrepreneurs are falling prey to patent trolls.

One such company is Carbonite, a startup based in Boston that offers data backup and storage on the cloud. As the CEO, Mohamad Ali, told the state Senate in testimony on July 20, Carbonite spent well over $5 million fighting a troll that falsely claimed the company was infringing certain patents.

Only after winning the case in front of a jury did Carbonite learn from the U.S. Patent Office that the patents the trolls claimed were not even valid.

Congress, which traditionally regulates intellectual property, has sat on their hands. There are still no federal rules in place to protect innovators from trolls.

In the vacuum, more than 30 states have stepped in to protect intellectual property and defend their startup businesses. It’s time for Massachusetts to act.

In the State Senate, Sen. Richard Ross and I have filed legislation that would prohibit a person from making a bad faith assertion of patent infringement. The legislation would also create a legal means for companies to defend themselves from such claims.

If the bill passes, patent trolls in Massachusetts could be held liable for damages such as lost business opportunities when a company is forced to shift resources and attention to fighting fraudulent lawsuits.

There is clear evidence that laws like these prevent business losses and promote growth, both for the tech industry and for individual companies.

The first published study of the effects of anti-patent troll laws showed that these state laws led to an increase in employment at small firms in high-tech industries, who are often the targets of trolls.

The same study showed that anti-troll legislation leads to fewer business bankruptcies and more investment in startup firms.

Once the threat of a lawsuit is removed, venture capital firms are more willing to invest in startups because they no longer have to worry that the companies will fold under the expense of legal battles.

This is particularly important for Massachusetts, the number two state in the country for tech innovation. The Bay State economy relies on young college grads tinkering, with the hopes of developing the next Microsoft, Facebook or Vertex.

Patent trolls might have stopped Bill Gates from creating Microsoft or prevented Mark Zuckerberg from creating Facebook.

They should be tamed before they kill the next great innovation that transforms our economy.

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Sen. Eric P. Lesser is the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, and leads Millennial Outreach for the Massachusetts State Senate. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.

We need a structure to prevent the price hike of prescription drugs

In Masslive 6/30/17

During the Senate’s debate on my proposal to create a bulk purchase program for EpiPens, I read an open letter from Dr. Mark Kenton of Mercy Medical Center to the CEO of Mylan, maker of the EpiPen.

Dr. Kenton wrote, “You do not know the look on a patient’s face when they are struggling to breathe after a bee sting … You have never seen the look of a parent when their child is unresponsive … You have never performed CPR on a child … You have never told a parent that their child is dead.”

After reading this, I could have heard a pin drop on the Senate floor.

As a young parent, I am outraged by the idea that a family would have to pick between protecting their child and breaking the bank.

Since 2009, the price of an EpiPen has spiked nearly 500 percent, from $103.50 to more than $608.61 in 2016.

More than 10,000 school students in Massachusetts rely on EpiPens for emergencies. Our families are too vulnerable to price-gouging by greedy pharmaceutical CEOs doing their best to game a broken system.

And it’s not just EpiPens: there has been an alarming trend of price hikes in recent years.

In 2015, for example, Martin Shkreli, then CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of a drug used to treat AIDS overnight from $13.50 a tablet to $750.

This February, after naloxone proved to be effective at reversing opioid overdoses, one manufacturer more than doubled the price of a twin-pack of injectors from $690 to $4,500.

The cruel reality of these price hikes is that they happen years after the drugs are developed, so the increase in profits is not going to the scientist who found the cure, but the CEOs, financiers, and middlemen who exploit the system.

One way to help protect families from this blatantly unfair pricing is bulk purchasing.

Last year, Massachusetts began implementing a bulk purchase program for Narcan, another name for naloxone, after a bill I introduced became law in 2015.

The program enables first responders to buy large numbers of doses at reduced prices, the same way Costco, Walmart, or Amazon can. Thanks to this program, our police and fire departments are paying $35 per dose while the market cost is over $75.

Now, the State Senate is hoping to repeat this success with a bulk purchase program for EpiPens. Under the leadership of Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka, the Senate included such a program in the Senate budget.

But we can’t play whack-a-mole. It’s not enough to chase after each medicine one at a time as the price shoots up. We need a structure that prevents the price hike in the first place.

That’s why the Senate also supported an initiative to study bulk purchasing of all drugs of public health concern.

Our families can’t continue to be at risk of random, sporadic price spikes when they need these medicines the most. Our citizens — and patients — need to be protected.

That’s what bulk purchasing would do.

What Dr. Kenton has seen should shock all of us and motivate each of us to change a broken system.

Sen. Eric P. Lesser is chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies & vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.