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

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.