Column: Combatting the Opioid Abuse Crisis

Opioid abuse and addiction in the Commonwealth has reached crisis level, and we need to take aggressive steps to prevent and treat addiction.  With no community and no family immune to the reach of this epidemic, it is critically important that we engage all members of our community to be informed and take action.

That is why I have convened a forum that I hope will be a helpful step toward increasing our community’s engagement on this critical issue.  With organizational partners the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse and the Mystic Valley Public Health Coalition, we will be holding a regional dialogue on opioid abuse.  Residents of the 5th Middlesex district and neighboring communities are encouraged to attend and to share their thoughts and feedback.

The presentation will take place on Thursday, October 23, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm, at the Hawkes Field House at Reading Memorial High School, 62 Oakland Road, Reading.  If you are planning to attend, please RSVP to the Director of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse, Erica McNamara, MPH, at emcnamara@ci.reading.ma.us.

Youth, parents, educators, first responders, healthcare professionals, faith leaders, law enforcement, business professionals, prevention advocates, treatment professionals, individuals in recovery and their family members, community leaders and elected officials, and any member of the public interested in substance abuse prevention should attend.

As Penelope Funaiole, the Mystic Valley Opioid Abuse Prevention Coordinator, noted, “To fully tackle this crisis, it is critical to have as many voices at the table as possible.  This is a dynamic disease, and it will take dynamic strategies and approaches to make change in our communities.”

To advance dynamic strategies for combatting this crisis at the state level, earlier this year, our Legislature passed important legislation to increase opportunities for long-term substance abuse recovery in the Commonwealth by supporting a continuum of care and removing barriers that stand in the way of effective treatment.

Among many valuable provisions, the new law both increased access to care and improved the standard of care by removing the potential obstacle of prior authorization from one’s health insurance company for substance abuse treatment if the treatment provider is certified or licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Additionally, the law also removed prior authorization for Acute Treatment Services (detoxification) for all MassHealth Managed Care Entities and required coverage of up to fourteen days of Clinical Stabilization Services.  The law also removed prior authorization for Acute Treatment Services and Clinical Stabilization Services for commercial insurers, as well, and required coverage for a total of up to fourteen days.  In short, potential obstacles or barriers to receiving urgently needed services were eliminated.

To further enhance access to substance abuse treatment, the law also required that the medical necessity of substance abuse treatment be determined by the treating clinician in consultation with patient, and that all insurance carriers would reimburse for substance abuse treatment services delivered by a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor.  This provision helped move the decision-making process from insurance companies to medical professionals and their patients.

In addition, the law directed the Center for Health Information and Analysis to review the accessibility of substance abuse treatment and adequacy of insurance coverage, and tasked the Health Policy Commission with recommending policies to ensure access and coverage for substance abuse treatment throughout the Commonwealth, as well as review denial rates for substance abuse treatment coverage by commercial insurers.  These measures will provide policymakers with invaluable information to achieve a level of treatment service provision that is more broadly accessible and truly adequate to meet our communities’ needs.

These steps will prove extremely valuable in not only expanding access to needed substance abuse treatment services but also in expediting the delivery of those services, as time is often of the essence when connecting someone in urgent need of recovery services with those critical, often life-saving services.

Between the efforts we are able to implement through government action; the leadership that municipal officials, substance abuse recovery experts, healthcare providers, and our schools are able to provide; and, the constructive dialogue in which we are able to engage at the local level, I remain hopeful that we have the necessary tools to combat this tragic crisis.  I hope you can join us at the regional forum on October 23 to hear the information discussed and to add your voice to the chorus working toward preventing future substance abuse and addiction in our communities.

Senator Jason Lewis Secures Five New Liquor Licenses for Stoneham

State Senator Jason Lewis announced that a home rule petition for the Town of Stoneham authorizing five new liquor and malt beverage licenses was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick this past week.

“I am very pleased to have been able to work with Governor Patrick to secure passage of these licenses for Stoneham,” said Senator Lewis.  “These licenses will help support and encourage further economic development in Stoneham.”

“This measure will generate more business opportunity in Stoneham,” noted Edward Doherty, President of the Stoneham Chamber of Commerce, and Executive Vice President of StonehamBank.  “Senator Lewis has been an effective advocate for Stoneham, and we appreciate him making Stoneham’s local economy a priority.”

“Thanks to Senator Lewis’ diligence, this important economic development priority for Stoneham was addressed,” said Thomas Boussy, Chairman of the Stoneham Board of Selectmen.  “It has been no small feat for Senator Lewis to pull double-duty on behalf of Stoneham while the Representative seat has been vacant; so, I’m especially appreciative to Senator Lewis’ commitment to getting results for Stoneham’s families and businesses.”

Senator Lewis helped shepherd this home rule legislation through the Massachusetts House of Representatives earlier this year, while still a Representative.  After joining the Massachusetts Senate following his special election victory in April, he was able to then shepherd the bill through the Senate, prior to working with the Governor’s office to secure Governor Patrick’s support of the new law.

The bill – H3786: An Act authorizing the town of Stoneham to grant 5 additional licenses for the sale of all alcoholic beverages to be drunk on the premises – will now be known as Chapter 348 of the Acts of 2014.

Senator Jason Lewis to Hold Forums on Ballot Questions

Later this month, Senator Jason Lewis will hold a series of informational forums on the ballot questions that voters will be considering on Election Day.  Residents of the 5th Middlesex district are encouraged to attend and bring their questions.

At each forum, Senator Lewis will provide some background on each question, describe what a yes versus a no vote means, and answer questions.

The schedule for the forums is as follows:

Tuesday, October 21, 1:30-2:30pm
Milano Senior Center, 201 West Foster Street, Melrose

Friday, October 24, 2:00-3:00pm
Stoneham Senior Center, 136 Elm Street, Stoneham

Tuesday, October 28, 6:30-7:30pm
Burbank YMCA, 36 Arthur B. Lord Drive, Reading

If anybody is unable to attend, but would like information on the ballot questions, they are encouraged to contact Senator Lewis’ office at 617-722-1206 or visit the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s web page on the ballot questions at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/ele14/pip14idx.htm.

State Senator Jason Lewis, Mayor Robert Dolan, and Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau on Main Street Small Business Walk

State Senator Jason Lewis was recently joined by Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan and Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau on a “Main Street Small Business Walk” to meet some of Melrose’s entrepreneurs and small businesspeople, and to hear directly from them the challenges that their businesses face and how state & local government can continue to be a productive partner for them.  Senator Lewis heard positive and thoughtful feedback from the owners of these popular small businesses, and thanks them for their time and valuable insight.

Among the members of the Melrose business community with whom Senator Lewis, Mayor Dolan, and Executive Director Mongeau spoke were the Halligan family who own Miter Biter, Melrose Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors President & Edward Jones financial advisor Christopher Cinella, Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet owner Rebecca Beraldi, and Madison Ave of Melrose boutique consignment owner Joanne Cotton.

MainStreetWalk(left to right) Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau,
Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, State Senator Jason Lewis

MiterBiter(left to right) Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau,
Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, Miter Biter co-owner Jim Halligan,
Miter Biter co-owner Dan Halligan, State Senator Jason Lewis

EdwardJones(left to right) State Senator Jason Lewis, Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan,
Melrose Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors President & Edward Jones financial advisor Christopher Cinella

BeaconHillWineGourmet(left to right) Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet owner Rebecca Beraldi, State Senator Jason Lewis

MadisonAveOfMelrose(left to right) Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau,
State Senator Jason Lewis, Madison Ave of Melrose boutique consignment owner Joanne Cotton

Senator Jason Lewis and Organizational Partners to Hold Regional Forum in Reading on Opioid Abuse

Later this month, Senator Jason Lewis, the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse, and the Mystic Valley Public Health Coalition will present a regional dialogue on opioid abuse.  Residents of the 5th Middlesex district and neighboring communities are encouraged to attend and share their thoughts and feedback.

The presentation will take place on Thursday, October 23, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm, at the Hawkes Field House at Reading Memorial High School, 62 Oakland Road, Reading.

“Opioid addiction in the Commonwealth has reached crisis level, and we need to take aggressive steps to prevent and treat addiction,” said Senator Lewis.  “With no community and no family immune to the reach of this epidemic, it is critically important that we engage all members of our community to be informed and take action.  This forum will be a helpful step in that direction.”

The evening’s agenda will include a panel presentation on the opioid issue from 7:00 to 7:30, followed by a rotating group discussion geared toward action items people can take to combat the opioid epidemic from 7:30 to 8:30, and then concluding from 8:30 to 9:00 with a summary of next steps members of the community can take.  In addition to Senator Lewis, the panel discussion will feature Penelope Funaiole, the Mystic Valley Opioid Abuse Prevention Coordinator, and Erica McNamara, MPH, Director of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse.

“To fully tackle this crisis, it is critical to have as many voices at the table as possible,” said Funaiole.  “This is a dynamic disease, and it will take dynamic strategies and approaches to make change in our communities.”

“Our coalition leaders look forward to welcoming partners from around the region to our community for a thoughtful discussion on the issues we face in addressing opioid misuse,” said McNamara.

Youth, parents, educators, first responders, healthcare professionals, faith leaders, law enforcement, business professionals, prevention advocates, treatment professionals, individuals in recovery and their family members, community leaders and elected officials, and any member of the public interested in substance abuse prevention should attend.

If you are planning to attend, please RSVP to the Director of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse, Erica McNamara, MPH, at emcnamara@ci.reading.ma.us.

Column: Ensuring Adequate and Equitable Funding for All Our Schools

Throughout our nation’s history, Massachusetts has stood at the forefront on the issue of public education.  The Commonwealth, holding true to that designation, was the first state to provide access to free public school for all children.  A few decades after, we instituted the first special education program for students with additional needs.

Since the time of Horace Mann, we have recognized that education is the critical ingredient to producing a vibrant civil society, as well as a strong economy that continues to grow.  While Massachusetts has enjoyed much success in the area of public education, the good test scores our students achieve cover up increasingly urgent crises in how we finance our public schools, in the areas of both adequacy and fairness.

The funding for our public schools is determined by the Chapter 70 formula which was created as part of the state’s landmark Education Reform Act of 1993.  First, a “foundation budget” is calculated for each school district to determine the resources needed to educate the students in that district.  Then, the “local contribution,” the amount that each municipality must contribute from its own revenues, is calculated based upon each community’s income levels and property values.  Finally, the state government allocates Chapter 70 aid to fill the gap between the “foundation budget” figure and the “local contribution” figure.  Additionally, if it so chooses, each community can put more of its local resources toward education if it wants to spend an amount greater than the foundation budget.

Much has changed in the more than twenty years since we passed education reform.  Unfortunately, the foundation budget has become outdated and no longer accurately reflects the true cost to educate our young people in the 21st century.  This is due to a variety of factors from increasing healthcare costs, to a growth in special education needs, to vast advances in educational technologies, to the foundation budget under-accounting for teachers’ salaries and professional development.

For these reasons, I fought in the Legislature to achieve a Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission, which will enable a careful and thorough examination of current educational needs and best practices, an important step toward achieving more adequate and equitable funding for our public schools.  I am proud of having successfully advocated for the Commission’s inclusion in our FY15 state budget.

The Commission will be made up of legislators, educators, and other stakeholders, with a goal of producing substantive legislative recommendations by the summer of 2015.  The Commission will hold a series of public hearings around the state in order to solicit input from Massachusetts residents.  Once these hearings are scheduled, my office will publicize them to ensure that you have the opportunity to make your voice heard during this important process.

The work of this Commission will be a profound step toward updating the Chapter 70 formula and ensuring that all of our communities have the resources needed to provide our children with an education that is second-to-none and that prepares them for professional success that will contribute to our economy’s growth and our society’s vibrancy.

As it is my highest priority to be accessible to the residents of the 5th Middlesex district and to hear your concerns and feedback on all issues, I recently held a forum on education funding at Wakefield High School.  Members of the community brought their questions and we enjoyed a thoughtful exchange of ideas and information.  For many constituents, we demystified the Chapter 70 education financing formula, and we productively discussed ways to address inadequacy and inequity in state education financing, beginning with the Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission.

If you were unable to attend our recent forum, and would like to access the information we discussed – or if you have any questions or feedback about this or other issues – please don’t hesitate to contact me at my State House office at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or at 617-722-1206.  I welcome our ongoing dialogue, and I remain committed to doing all that I can in the Legislature to ensure that our communities have the resources needed to prepare our young people for successful and productive futures.

Malden Awarded Two State Grants

Over $24,000 in state grants awarded to Malden for literacy and recycling programs

The Malden state legislative delegation, including Senator Jason Lewis and Representatives Paul J. Donato, Chris Fallon, and Paul Brodeur, are pleased to announce that Malden has been awarded over $24,000 in state grants for literacy and recycling programs.

Malden Public Schools has been awarded a Literacy Partnership grant in the amount of $16,963 courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  The purpose of the state-funded Literacy Partnerships grant program is to support the use of Pre-K to grade 6 model curriculum units in literacy and humanities, as well as aligning curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development with the 2011 Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy.

The City of Malden will also receive a grant in the amount of $7,200 courtesy of the Patrick Administration’s new Recycling Dividends Program (RDP), aimed at helping communities maximize their current recycling, composting, and waste reduction programs.  The RDP is the newest initiative under the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s Sustainable Materials Recovery Program, which was created under the Green Communities Act.

“These grants for important initiatives in the areas of child literacy and waste reduction are great examples of how our state government can be a helpful partner for our cities and towns,” said Senator Lewis.  “I’m very pleased that Malden will benefit from these investments in our education and environment.”

“Our community will benefit from these grants,” said Representative Donato.  “Children, literacy and waste reduction are important areas for the state to allocate funds.”

“Funding literacy and waste reduction initiatives goes a long way to improving our communities,” said Representative Brodeur. “Malden will make great strides in these areas and I am glad to see these funds go towards such useful endeavors.”

Senator Jason Lewis Reads to Children at the Stoneham Public Library

Senator Jason Lewis recently joined several of his youngest constituents in the Children’s Room of the Stoneham Public Library for the library’s weekly StoryTime.  Senator Lewis and the kids read Swimmy by Leo Lionni and I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry.  Opinions were split between which book was the children’s favorite, but Senator Lewis enjoyed them as much as the kids did!

 

StonehamLibrary1

Senator Jason Lewis to Hold Forum in Wakefield on Education Funding

Later this month, Senator Jason Lewis, in collaboration with the Wakefield School Committee and Wakefield Superintendent of Schools Dr. Stephen Zrike, will present a public information session on state education finance reform.  Residents of the 5th Middlesex district are encouraged to attend and share their thoughts and feedback.

The presentation will take place on Wednesday, September 24, at 6:30pm at The Savings Bank Theater at Wakefield High School, 60 Farm Street, Wakefield.

“I am committed to making sure that our cities and towns receive adequate and equitable resources from the Commonwealth in order to provide a second-to-none public education for our young people,” said Senator Lewis.  “This forum will be an opportunity for residents of the 5th Middlesex district to gain information on how those resources are allocated and to feel empowered to have an impact on this critically important issue.”

In addition to Senator Lewis, presenters will include Wakefield School Committee member Christopher Callanan and Colin Jones of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MBPC).  Mr. Jones is the Education Policy Analyst at the MBPC, and will focus his remarks on demystifying the Chapter 70 education financing formula, as well as on discussing ways to address inadequacy and inequity in state education financing today.

There will also be ample opportunity for members of the public to ask questions of the presenters, as well as for audience members to discuss the issues raised and offer their thoughts.

Melrose Legislative Delegation at the Melrose Dog Park

Melrose’s legislative delegation, State Senator Jason Lewis and State Representative Paul Brodeur, held a special outdoor District Office Hour yesterday at the Melrose Dog Park.  They discussed significant animal rights legislation that was signed into law this year and took questions from area residents.  Senator Lewis and Representative Brodeur also enjoyed meeting several of their four-legged constituents.

BrodeurLewisDogPark