For Immediate Release - June 10, 2014


Opioid Task Force recommends clearer pathways to treatment, expanded treatment beds, enhanced opioid education programs to help de-stigmatize addiction

Opioid Task Force Report Announcement

Governor Patrick announces Opioid Task Force recommendations and actions to strengthen substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services in Massachusetts at William Ostiguy High School, Boston. (Photo: Kenshin Okubo / Governor's Office)

BOSTON – Tuesday, June 10, 2014 – Governor Deval Patrick today announced a series of actions to address the opioid addiction epidemic in Massachusetts that will strengthen the state’s ability to respond to the opioid crisis with a focus on prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery. Over the past two months, the Governor’s Opioid Task Force met with families and stakeholders from across the Commonwealth and worked with the Department of Public Health to develop a set of findings and recommendations designed to improve the Commonwealth’s opioid abuse prevention and treatment systems, prevent opioid misuse and addiction, increase the numbers of persons seeking treatment, and support persons recovering from addiction in our communities.

“These actions will help enhance our network of treatment and recovery services to help communities and families struggling with addiction,” said Governor Patrick. “I hope this work results in more families talking openly about issues of addiction in order to spark the process of healing and recovery.”

Governor Patrick announced the Task Force’s findings and corresponding recommendations from DPH this morning at the Ostiguy Recovery High School in Boston, one of four recovery high schools in the state. Ostiguy provides a structured school environment for high school-aged youth in recovery, which allows them to complete their education while receiving appropriate treatment and supports.

“Members of the Task Force have put forward strong recommendations, and I thank the Governor for committing to these actions that will help improve treatment services and fill any gaps in our recovery system,” said DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, RN. “Massachusetts already has a strong treatment system, and I look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature and across the Commonwealth to create a national model for recovery.”

Governor Patrick’s actions to address the findings of the Task Force include:

Convening of Regional Governors:  As this crisis is not only facing Massachusetts, but also other states in New England and across the nation, Governor Patrick will meet with New England governors on June 17th at Brandeis University to discuss a regional response to the opioid epidemic.

Expanding and Streamlining Access to Services: In order to meet the escalating demand for treatment, ensure a comprehensive continuum of care and facilitate access to coordinated care, DPH will expand community-based and residential treatment programs for underserved populations, including adolescents, young adults and families with children. DPH will also develop a central navigation system that will maintain a real-time inventory of available services across the Commonwealth to assist individuals in finding appropriate treatment.

Enhancing Opioid Education: DPH will launch a statewide awareness campaign for youth and parents to promote more openness and public dialogue about issues of addiction and recovery. The Commonwealth will also help enhance education for medical professionals on best-practices in identifying and treating individuals with opioid addiction.

Addressing Insurance Practices: DPH and the Division of Insurance, in consultation with the Health Policy Commission, will conduct a comprehensive review of insurance coverage for opioid addiction treatment. The agencies will consult with clinical experts to develop minimum criteria for opioid abuse and addiction treatment services that will be considered medically necessary for all patients. The Task Force found that gaps in coverage were impacting services for individuals in need.

Expanding Correctional System Treatment: The Commonwealth will work to provide individuals with enhanced support and treatment for drug addiction when they leave correctional facilities and integrate back into society.  The report recommends additional funding to expand the use of injectable naltrexone (Vivitrol), an opioid antagonist, to help individuals in the custody of the Department of Correction and Houses of Correction to continue their recovery as they re-enter the community.

Strengthening Safe Prescribing and Dispensing: DPH will work with the boards of registration to consider regulations to minimize diversion and misuse while ensuring safe prescribing and patient access to medication.

Expanding Peer-Support Networks: The Administration will work with communities to expand peer support networks comprised of individuals in recovery who provide guidance to those navigating pathways out of addiction. The Task Force recommends adding new Recovery Support Centers and expanding the hours of existing Recovery Support Centers to provide places for people in recovery to spend time involved with safe, drug-free activities in the community. The Task Force also recommends adding a recovery school in Central Massachusetts.

The Opioid Task Force’s full report, including all findings and recommendations, can be found here

On March 27, 2014, Governor Patrick declared a public health emergency and gave the Department of Public Health (DPH) the authority to take immediate steps, including the formation of an Opioid Task Force within the Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention. The task force, chaired by Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, RN, was charged with developing additional policy recommendations to strengthen the Commonwealth’s response to this public health emergency.

The Governor’s emergency actions also made Naloxone (Narcan) widely available to first responders and in pharmacies and accelerated the mandatory enrollment of prescribers in the Prescription Monitoring Program.

Governor Patrick has also taken strong action to prevent the abuse and misuse of hydrocodone-only extended-release medication that is not in abuse-deterrent form, including a requirement that doctors complete a risk assessment and utilize the Prescription Monitoring Program before such medications are prescribed.

"The health insurance industry in Massachusetts has indicated its willingness to partner with the Commonwealth to address the needs of this population,” said Commissioner Joseph G. Murphy. “Along with our colleagues from DPH and HPC, we look forward to a thorough review of the challenges and opportunities private insurance can help to address.”

“It is reassuring to those of us on the front lines to know that Governor Patrick has the courage and conviction to tackle this issue head on,” said John McGahan, a task force member and President of the Gavin Foundation in Boston. “Governor Patrick understands that addiction is a complex issue that must be addressed through a broad spectrum of governmental agencies.  The approach announced today addresses a public health crisis without compromising public safety, one that supports communities, families and the persons seeking recovery. We cannot thank Governor Patrick enough for his unwavering support for substance abuse services.”

“I am grateful for Governor Patrick’s leadership, which brought together organizations, families, and individuals from across our state,” said task force member Paul Kusiak, a Board Member of the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery. “Everyone’s input was valuable and needed to better address an opioid epidemic that’s like no other that I’ve ever experienced. Much needed funds, resources, and focus will save lives and help more families heal.”

“We, at Learn To Cope, a support group for families struggling with the disease  of a loved one, have seen our membership grow for 10 years,” said Mary E. D’Eramo of Learn to Cope. “We appreciate the efforts of this task force, engaged by Governor Patrick to develop solutions to making things better for all of the citizens of the Commonwealth. We hope these solutions from this task force take direct aim at the causes, the barriers and make the difference to turn the tide in Massachusetts.”

“We are pleased to have joined Governor Patrick and Commissioner Bartlett in developing a comprehensive response to the opiate epidemic facing the Commonwealth,” said Chuck Faris,  CEO, Spectrum Health Systems. “The Governor has demonstrated decisive leadership that will save lives.”

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