Attorney General-Elect Maura Healey today announced plans to work with law enforcement partners, public health experts, and community groups to more aggressively combat the heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis in Massachusetts.
Announcing the formation of an internal Attorney General’s task force on opiate and prescription drug abuse, Healey vowed to expand the reach of the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program; address drug marketing, prescribing and dispensing practices that lead to abuse; support public education and outreach efforts; direct resources toward addiction and treatment programs; investigate drug trafficking; and review the cost and availability of anti-overdose medication.
“Every day, families across Massachusetts are being torn apart by this epidemic,” said Healey. “We must lead the nation in confronting this public health crisis. I will build on our state’s many ongoing efforts and bring every resource I have to the table.”
The multi-faceted approach marks the first major initiative of Healey’s term, which begins Jan. 21, and carries forward issues raised by the incoming AG throughout her yearlong campaign.
Healey’s task force will bring together a multi-disciplinary team from across the AG’s office, including criminal prosecutors, civil enforcement attorneys, health care and drug abuse prevention experts, investigators, and the Massachusetts State Police. The team will develop a coordinated, office-wide approach to addressing the statewide crisis, in partnership with the Governor and his administration, district attorneys, law enforcement, legislators, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders.
“Maura Healey will be a strong leader in addressing the opioid epidemic, allocating resources to investigations and enforcement, treatment and recovery programs, and prescription drug monitoring,” said Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan. “Those of us who watch this crisis harm families every day applaud her willingness to place this epidemic at the center of her agenda.”
“Maura Healey’s proposed task force shows her commitment to addressing a growing opiate epidemic. It’s clear that she knows how to use every lever to take this crisis head on,” said Joanne Peterson, Founder and Executive Director of Learn to Cope, a peer-led support network for families dealing with addiction and recovery. “We applaud her and will be there as a partner in the days ahead.”
Some of the issues Healey intends to act upon include:
- Expanding the reach of the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP). The PMP is a secure website that supports safe prescribing and dispensing, through which registered prescribers and pharmacists can view a patient’s recent prescription history. Healey will work to improve the operability of the PMP between states and to expand its ease and use by pharmacists and prescribers. Healey will also focus on data sharing with prescribers, law enforcement, and neighboring states, as well as real-time reporting of prescriptions.
- Developing public education and outreach initiatives. Healey will use AGO resources to help develop and fund public education programs on opiate and prescription drug abuse, focused on issues like safe prescribing and dispensing, safe use of prescription drugs, and reducing teen access to prescription medicine. She will also advocate for the placement of safe disposal boxes for prescription drugs in communities across the state and convene a meeting with state and local public health, law enforcement, and education leaders on improving the availability of evidence-based opiate abuse education programs in schools.
- Expanding Massachusetts’ pharmacy lock-in programs. Through insurer-run pharmacy lock-in programs, individuals who are suspected of doctor-shopping for prescription drugs or abusing their prescriptions can be “locked in” to use a single pharmacy to better control and monitor misuse. Healey will work with private insurers to expand use of these innovative initiatives.
- Investigating and addressing cost increases and access in the Naloxone market. Since first responders began using the drug Naloxone (Narcan) to prevent overdoses, reports have surfaced of significant cost increases around the nation. The New York Times reported that kits containing the drug have gone from $22 to $40. Healey plans to meet with pharmaceutical and public health leaders to discuss the potential for developing cheaper nasal Naloxone products and other avenues to reduce costs. Healey will also work to resolve reimbursement problems limiting the ability of first responders to restock supplies.
“These are concrete and definitive steps we can take – now – that will make a difference in addressing this crisis,” Healey said. “As Attorney General, I will work closely with my partners in government and law enforcement to quickly and effectively implement these changes.”
Stakeholders in law enforcement, advocates and professionals embraced Healey’s plan.
“As community pharmacists on the front lines of this public health crisis, we welcome Attorney General-Elect Healey’s commitment to tackling opiate and prescription drug abuse in Massachusetts,” said Todd Brown, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Independent Pharmacists Association. “We particularly support the AG-Elect’s plan to improve public education and expand the prescription monitoring program, which will save lives.”
“Norfolk County is being devastated by heroin and prescription drug abuse. With this detailed plan, AG-Elect Healey is giving Massachusetts families a much-needed ally in this fight. I look forward to working with her,” said Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey.
“I am very glad that the AG-Elect is making the heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis a priority,” said Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan. “Her leadership will be a resource for all of law enforcement, because we know that drug treatment and education must be central to any plan. This announcement is good news for Franklin County.”
Healey said her office will also look into deploying law enforcement resources to drug trafficking hotspots, and investigating pill-mills and other abuses by prescribers and dispensers. The AG-Elect also promised to work with legislators and the Governor-Elect to expand the use of drug courts and increase resources and treatment options for those struggling with addiction.
“Those of us in public service and those on the front lines don’t go a day without hearing another heart-breaking story of loss due to this epidemic. It’s time to act,” Healey said.