Massachusetts House passes Opioid Bill

BOSTON – State Representative Richard M. Haggerty (D-Woburn) was pleased to join his colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass “An Act relative to treatments and coverage for substance use disorder and recovery coach licensure,” a wide-ranging opioid bill which covers the licensure of recovery coaches, makes opioid overdose reversal drugs more accessible, protects harm reduction providers, and removes barriers that new mothers in recovery face at the time they give birth.

“The opioid epidemic has taken a devastating toll on individuals, their families and our communities, and impacted countless lives across our state,” said Representative Haggerty. “By expanding access to life-saving overdose reversal drugs, protecting those who provide critical harm reduction services, and supporting individuals on their journey to recovery, we are taking meaningful action to save lives and provide hope to those who are struggling.”

The most recent statistics released by the Department of Public Health (DPH) indicate that in 2023, there were 2,125 confirmed and estimated fatalities linked to opioid overdoses. This figure represents a decrease of 232 confirmed and estimated deaths compared to the previous year, 2022.

Recovery coaches

Recovery coaches assist individuals with substance use challenges in engaging with and maintaining their recovery process. The legislation approved today creates a system for licensing and overseeing recovery coaches within the Department of Public Health, and requires all health insurance plans to include coverage for recovery coach services without imposing cost-sharing or necessitating prior authorization. Additionally, the bill instructs the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) to conduct a study and produce a report on obstacles to certification, credentialing, and other professional and practice requirements for recovery coaches. It also mandates BSAS to establish a peer support program for recovery coaches, encompassing mentorship, technical guidance on billing and employment practices, and provision of resources.

Opioid overdose reversal drugs

The legislation mandates all health insurance plans to provide coverage for opioid overdose reversal medications, such as naloxone, without imposing cost-sharing or requiring prior authorization. It also mandates that substance use disorder treatment facilities provide education about and distribute a minimum of two doses of opioid overdose reversal drugs to individuals upon their release. Similarly, hospitals are required to educate and either prescribe or dispense at least two doses of these medications to patients with a history of opioid use or opioid use disorder when they are discharged.

Furthermore, the bill stipulates that pharmacies located in areas with high rates of overdose must maintain an uninterrupted supply of opioid overdose reversal drugs. These pharmacies are obligated to notify the Department of Public Health if they are unable to comply with this requirement due to inadequate stock or supply issues.

Patient education

In an effort to prevent opioid misuse, the bill requires prescribers to be educated on pain treatment, including appropriate non-opioid alternatives to pain treatment. It also requires pharmacists to provide printed educational materials issued by DPH on non-opioid alternatives for the treatment of pain to patients prior to dispensing an opioid.

Harm reduction

The legislation offers protection to public health and harm reduction organizations, along with their representatives, who offer drug-checking services like needle exchange programs aimed at reducing accidental overdose risks. This protection shields them from civil liability, professional disciplinary measures by registration boards, and criminal charges or prosecution related to possession of drug paraphernalia, unlawful possession of controlled substances, and conspiracy to violate the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Additionally, the bill protects individuals who seek drug-checking services on substances intended only for personal use from being criminally charged or prosecuted for possession of drug paraphernalia, unlawful possession of controlled substances, and conspiracy to violate the CSA while on the premises of a public health or harm reduction organization providing said services.

Ensuring non-discriminatory treatment

The legislation clarifies DPH’s authority to enforce anti-discrimination measures for individuals with substance use disorders who are covered by public health insurance. It also prevents life insurance providers from restricting or denying coverage to people based solely on their acquisition of opioid overdose reversal medications, whether for personal use or to assist others. Furthermore, the legislation prohibits discrimination against individuals who legally possess and use prescribed medications for treating opioid-related substance use disorders, such as methadone or buprenorphine.

Pregnant people on medications for addiction treatment

The legislation eliminates “physical dependence upon an addictive drug at birth” from the list of conditions that trigger a mandatory child abuse and neglect report. This change exempts pregnant individuals who are taking doctor-prescribed medications from automatic investigation by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The bill also mandates that DCF, in collaboration with the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA), and relevant stakeholders, develop and implement regulations governing the care, treatment, and reporting procedures for substance-exposed newborns (SENs).

Having passed the House of Representatives 153-0, the bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.