Sudders previews plans ahead of June opioid report release

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – The governor’s opioid abuse task force will present its recommendations to Gov. Charlie Baker early next month, including steps the administration can take to simplify and improve the state’s prescription monitoring program and to develop a plan to limit the quantities of opioids that can be prescribed at one time.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders on Thursday said the task force, which was formed in February, would make public its formal findings and recommendations by June 11.

Testifying before the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Sudders also previewed for lawmakers some of the initiatives the administration will pursue around prescriptions and the use of Framingham State Prison to warehouse women who might be better served receiving treatment for substance abuse.

Sudders said that no later than August the administration would have a plan to reform the civil commitment process that often requires women in need of substance abuse treatment to be sent to Framingham State Prison.

“Courts and incarceration should not be the default addictions treatment system,” Sudders said in her testimony.

MassHealth, according to Sudders, also plans to coordinate with its managed care providers and the Department of Public Health to revise its pharmacy management policies regarding opioids, including smaller prescription fills to limit the risk of addiction or drugs falling into the wrong hands.

According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, 54 percent of pain relievers obtained for non-medical use in 2011 and 2012 were taken for free from a friend or relative. Baker in his budget proposed to generate some savings from tightening control over some prescriptions, including certain opioids, by restricting supplies to 14 days, rather than 30-day or 60-day prescriptions.

Sudders also said that by September her office will have made technological improvements to the Prescription Monitoring Program, reducing the number of steps doctors must take to access the system and to ensure physicians are viewing “real time data” from “11 clicks” to two.

The opioid abuse task force, chaired by Sudders, held a series of public meetings around the state, hearing from more than 1,100 people, as it worked to develop a set of recommendations to tackle what Baker has described as a “crisis” in Massachusetts.

“A lot of heartbreak in this, and then we also saw a lot of hope,” Sudders said.

Several members of the committee, including Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier of Pittsfield, urged Sudders and the task force to make sure any plans take into account regional differences.

“You can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach in the Commonwealth. It just doesn’t work for us,” Sudders agreed.

The task force report, according to Sudders, will also include an assessment of substance abuse beds available across the state, and will likely recommend a new school education component. Sudders said the task force is undecided about how early to introduce students to drug education, but suggested the task force would likely recommend starting before junior high school.

Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, the Senate chair of the committee, said she hopes to “fast-track” a substance abuse bill this session that could incorporate some of the recommendations of the task force that require legislative approval.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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