Metro

Opioid task force says more beds, treatment options needed

Group’s work was commissioned by Governor Charlie Baker

Governor Charlie Baker cited a Time magazine cover story during a press conference announcing the findings of his Opioid Working Group.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff
Governor Charlie Baker cited a Time magazine cover story during a press conference announcing the findings of his Opioid Working Group.

Governor Charlie Baker pledged Monday to establish 100 new addiction-treatment beds within a year, to provide education on addiction to professionals who care for pregnant women and new mothers, and to make an overdose antidote more widely available.

The recommendations, among 65 steps from Baker’s Opioid Working Group, represent the governor’s first major response to an epidemic that claimed 1,000 lives from overdoses last year.

“The solution is not a one-size-fits-all,” Baker said, but will require new ways of thinking to prevent addiction, remove barriers to treatment, and improve public understanding. The 100 new beds would add to the 2,500 treatment spots at residential facilities around the state.

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Baker said he plans to seek $27.8 million in the fiscal year 2016 budget, and to redirect $6.7 million in money from other sources, to address the group’s proposals.

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The group called for improved access to all types of treatment, including medications that quiet addicts’ cravings, as well as public education to end the stigma that prevents many from seeking help.

Some recommendations, such as a plan to lower the cost of the overdose antidote by purchasing it in bulk, will require legislative action, while others will involve partnerships with private industry and the federal government. And one is already underway: public service advertisements alerting parents to the hazards of prescription painkillers.

The additional money includes $14 million to pay higher rates for services at the state’s roughly 100 recovery houses, places where people live after addiction treatment but before they are ready to manage on their own; $5.8 million to remove from prison women who were civilly committed for substance abuse and place them in state-run hospitals; and $5 million for school programs on the dangers of opioids.

Under the plan, schools would choose what education programs to offer, provided the approach has been proven to reduce opioid misuse.

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“I didn’t originally run for governor to fight opioid addiction, but simply put, it was everywhere I went,” Baker said. “I can’t remember the last time I was in a room of more than 20 people where someone didn’t have a story that directly connected them to this crisis.”

Baker revealed that he, too, was personally connected: “I have family that almost lost somebody to this,” he said at the end of a State House press conference releasing the report.

Marylou Sudders, the state’s health secretary, talked about the opioid crisis on Monday.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Marylou Sudders, the state’s health secretary, talked about the opioid crisis on Monday.

Marylou Sudders, secretary of health and human services and the group’s co-chair, said she will create a new position — assistant secretary of behavioral health — to oversee implementation of the recommendations.

“There are too many barriers to treatment,” she said. “We will open new pathways.” That will include a pilot program placing trained counselors in outpatient settings and increasing the use of medication-assisted treatment. The Department of Public Health also will develop a database of available treatments open to anyone.

The state will also tap into data about overdose deaths to identify community “hot spots” that will be targeted for extra help.

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Sudders also pledged to make the prescription monitoring program, a database of opioid prescriptions, a more useful tool for those checking to see whether a patient is seeing multiple physicians to obtain large amounts of drugs. Currently, it takes 11 clicks for a physician or other prescriber to reach the needed information, and even then, the information they get is often outdated. Sudders said the number of clicks would be reduced and the program will be updated daily.

Attorney General Maura Healey, who co-chaired the working group, said that while opioid addiction involves law enforcement, it also requires a public health approach.

“We are not going to arrest or incarcerate our way out of this,” she said. “Addiction must be treated like any other chronic illness.”

She said she would enforce the state law requiring insurers to cover behavioral health in the same way they cover physical health. She also plans to make the overdose antidote naloxone — widely known by its commercial name, Narcan — more widely available to emergency workers. And she said she would publicize the state’s Good Samaritan law, which protects people from arrest if they call 911 to report an overdose.

Healey pledged to step up enforcement of medical professionals who overprescribe and treatment centers that unlawfully charge for care.

The report was well-received in the treatment community.

“It’s going to look at the problem from many different angles,” said Dr. Dennis M. Dimitri, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president of the Dimock Center in Roxbury, said she welcomed the report’s call for greater access to services, but cautioned: “How that’s going to happen within the constraints of our budget remains to be determined.”

Charles J. Faris, president of Spectrum Health Systems, an addiction treatment provider, was impressed with Baker’s promise of nearly $28 million in additional funding for addiction services. “Compared to past efforts, this is light-years ahead,” he said.

But Faris added “the proof in the pudding” will be how quickly the state acts. “If things take too long to be put in place, you tend to lose enthusiasm,” he said.

Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian applauded a call for partnerships between correctional facilities and health centers. He noted that 80 percent of inmates at the Middlesex House of Correction and Jail report suffering from addiction. “Continuity of health care isn’t just a public health issue — it’s a matter of public safety,” Koutoujian said in a statement.

Appointed in February, the Opioid Working Group included public officials, addiction treatment specialists, law enforcement, and others. To reach its conclusions, the panel held meetings around the state, heard from 1,100 people, examined recommendations from more than 150 organizations, and reviewed research and government reports.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.