Sen. Lesser Votes to Pass the "CARE Act," Introducing New Tools to Combat the Opioid Epidemic and Treat Substance Abuse

Bill Expands Access to Narcan and Includes Commission Proposed by Sen. Lesser to Strengthen Consumer Protection Laws against Opioid Manufacturers

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser voted with the State Senate on Thursday to pass the “CARE Act,” an omnibus bill that establishes a range of new policies to combat the opioid epidemic and ensure equal access to care for those struggling to overcome addiction.

The bill also establishes a commission, proposed by Sen. Lesser, that would seek to strengthen the state’s consumer protection laws and potentially empower legal action against opioid manufacturers.

“Too many families have lost a loved one to this scourge of opioid addiction that does not discriminate in the lives it takes. There is no shortage of evidence that drug companies knew the drugs they pushed were dangerous and highly addictive, and it’s high time that we hold them accountable,” said Sen. Lesser.

“I hope that, as we continue to fight this epidemic, we will pay particular attention to the communities that are seeing unusually high addiction and overdose rates, such as our Latino communities and other historically underserved groups. We need to ensure that everyone has equal access to care and recovery treatment,” he added.

The bill, S. 2609 An Act for prevention and access to appropriate care and treatment of addiction, includes a number of innovative solutions to steer patients away from opioids and improve treatment of opioid addiction, such as:

  • ensuring health insurance coverage for a broad range of pain management services, including alternatives to opioid painkillers to treat chronic pain;
  • increasing access to the overdose-reversal drug Narcan by allowing pharmacies to dispense doses over-the-counter; and
  • recommending standards for a professional credential for recovery coaches.

The bill also establishes a human service workers student loan repayment program, originally filed by Sen. Lesser as an amendment to the budget. The program supports many of the workers who are serving those grappling with opioid addiction and recovering from it.

“Despite efforts to suppress the opioid crisis, families across the Commonwealth continue to lose their loved ones to substance use disorder,” said Sen. Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, who was the lead sponsor of the bill. “This legislation builds upon the work the state has done around opioid misuse and prevention and provides another set of tools to reduce harm, save lives, and increase access to evidence-based treatment. We have a major epidemic on our hands and we have to use everything at our disposal to cure this disease.”

Sen. Lesser has been a leader in fighting the opioid epidemic. Most recently, he sponsored an amendment to the Senate’s healthcare reform package that included funding for research into medication-assisted treatment and alternatives to pain management such as acupuncture. In January 2015, Sen. Lesser filed a bill that served as a blueprint for the Massachusetts bulk purchasing program for Narcan.

The bill will now be negotiated with a version passed by the House of Representatives before going to the Governor for his signature.