For Immediate Release - September 17, 2015

HHS Leaders Travel to Washington DC to Share Strategies on Opioid Crisis

(Washington, DC)- State leaders in the opioid effort in Massachusetts have been invited to the nation’s capital to participate in an intensive two-day working meeting to share strategies and solutions on fighting the opioid epidemic. Marylou Sudders, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Monica Bharel, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health arrive in Washington DC this afternoon.

“In the eight months since Governor Baker established his Opioid Working Group we have educated the people of the Commonwealth on the dangers of opioid misuse, added treatment beds, worked with providers to establish best prescribing practices and with insurers to eliminate some of the barriers to treatment,” said Secretary Sudders, who served as Chair of the Working Group. “But much of this work will take partnerships with our sister states and the federal government which is why this conference is so important.”

The conference, entitled “Advancing Policy and Practice: A 50-State Convening to Prevent Opioid Overdose and Addiction,” brings together policy makers from across the country to discuss evidence-based interventions, the importance of medication-assisted therapies, strategies for safe and effective opioid prescribing, and how providers and states can work together to reduce opioid overdoses. Commissioner Bharel will deliver a presentation on the state’s successful program to increase access to Naloxone (Narcan).

“Naloxone is a critical tool proven to save lives and as of March, we have trained 32,000 bystanders on how to use it when needed. That’s resulted in 4,346 overdose reversals in Massachusetts,” said Commissioner Bharel. “Through the combined efforts of public health, public safety, the medical community and advocates, we have made incredible strides in Massachusetts.”

Dr. Bharel also notes the FY15 budget set aside $1 million for first responders and bystander programs. Similar funding has gone to 37 police or fire department Naloxone programs in 23 municipalities and produced 744 documented reversals as of March. A few weeks ago, Attorney General Maura Healey announced a $325,000 settlement with one manufacturer of the drug, which will help fund the state’s first bulk purchasing program, making the lifesaving intervention cheaper for those who should have it.

“The opioid epidemic knows no boundaries; it touches lives in cities, rural counties and suburban neighborhoods across the county,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “That’s why it’s so important that we come together – both state and federal leaders - and take a coordinated and comprehensive approach to address this crisis. We all have a role to play and fortunately we share common ground and a common commitment to end this crisis.”

At the conference, Secretary Burwell is expected to propose new federal legislation to expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Current regulation caps the number of patients to 30 in the first year who can be prescribed buprenorphine by one certified physician. That number increases to 100 in subsequent years. A revised regulation could help more patients receive treatment. Creating greater access to MAT is a major recommendation of the Massachusetts Opioid Working Group.

In the United States in 2013, overdoses from opioid prescription pain relievers claimed more than 15,200 lives. In Massachusetts, 939 were estimated to have died from opioid overdose with another 1,256 deaths in 2014. Governor Baker has made curbing the opioid epidemic one of the top priorities of his administration.