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House Passes Legislation to Combat Substance Abuse Epidemic

The Mass. House of Representatives has passed legislation that increases access to treatment for individuals confronting substance addition and takes significant steps to combat the current epidemic.

The bill seeks to set patients on a path to sustainable recovery by both increasing access to care and improving the standard of care. Under this legislation, all insurance plans in the Commonwealth will cover acute treatment services, clinical stabilization and medical detox for at least ten days, and patients will have access to treatment without having to obtain prior authorization first. Additionally, licensed drug and alcohol counselors will be added to the list of specialists covered to allow these providers to bill insurers for their services.

“This legislation is the first step in quelling the rise in substance addition that is devastating the lives of people across the Commonwealth,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “The bill provides the foundation for sustainable improvement by increasing access to care and changing the way we monitor and respond to unprecedented public health crises like the one we’re currently confronting.”

“Under the leadership of Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, the House prioritized consideration of this bill to address a recent alarming rise in substance abuse incidents,” said Representative Brian S. Dempsey (D – Haverhill), chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means. “We implement standards to ensure quality of care for those in treatment and we empower the Drug Formulary Commission and the Department of Public Health to determine if substances pose a heightened risk to our Commonwealth. Our bill takes important steps not only to provide comprehensive support and recovery services, but to protect the public health before incidents occur. “

“This historic piece of legislation will ensure that individuals in need of substance abuse treatment are able to get it, for at least 10 days, when the need it and without insurance barriers,” said Representative Liz Malia (D-Jamaica Plain), Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “The bill also ensures the public health and safety of all citizens by increasing the membership and role of the drug formulary commission and allows the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health to schedule new drugs, on an emergency temporary basis, to avoid imminent hazards to public safety. I am extremely proud of all of the components of the bill and truly believe it will make a difference for individuals and families across the Commonwealth.”

The legislation expands on efforts taken by the House last year by allowing for the emergency scheduling of substances by the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health (DPH). DPH will now have the authority to temporarily categorize a substance as “schedule I’ on an emergency basis to avoid imminent hazard to public safety or preserve public health. Additionally, this bill authorizes DPH compile a list of prescription drug drop boxes and other safe locations where people will be able to dispose of excess prescription drugs.

To increase oversight and enhance the Commonwealth’s ability to respond to public health problems, this legislation increases the membership of the Drug Formulary Commission (DFC) to include representatives from the Department of Insurance, DPH, Medicaid and chronic pain and addition medicine specialists. The DFC will also be required to recommend a list of chemically equivalent substitutions for opiates that are less likely to be abused to encourage the prescription of abuse-deterrent medications.


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