Rep. Benson Votes with Legislature to Pass Substance Addiction Bill

Boston – March 12, 2016 – On Wednesday, March 9, State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass substance addiction legislation that enhances intervention, prevention and education efforts, including the creation of a framework to evaluate and treat patients who present in emergency rooms with an apparent overdose.

This new practice, which will be covered by insurance, is designed to ensure the proper assessment and discharge of patients who seek voluntary treatment. If a patient refuses treatment, information on health and community resources will be provided. This framework reflects the 2012 University of Miami Medical School findings that voluntary treatment is more effective and affordable than involuntary commitment.

“We are in the midst of a public health crisis that is draining vitality from our hometowns, extinguishing lives and stealing souls,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop).  “Our focus on workable solutions, consensus-building and legislation that complements our budget investments has set a foundation for continual improvement. I wholeheartedly thank my colleagues for their creative, unassuming and compassionate commitment to paving a path for the recovery of thousands of our loved ones, and in fact, a path for our wounded Commonwealth.”

“I was proud to vote for this bill,” said Representative Benson. “Addiction ruins lives and tears families apart. Once signed into law, this legislation will begin stemming the tide of this public health crisis by ensuring current addicts can access treatment, and by implementing policies that will help to keep people from developing addictions.”

The bill limits first-time opiate prescriptions to seven days for adults and all opiate prescriptions for minors to seven days, with exceptions for chronic pain management, cancer, and palliative care. Practitioners must now check the prescription monitoring program (PMP) each time they prescribe any opiate and correspondingly note that in the patient’s medical records.

From its discussions with numerous stakeholders and recovery groups, the Legislature recognizes the importance of empowering individuals as they grapple with addiction. As a result, this bill establishes a non-opiate directive form, allowing patients to include a notation in their records that they shall not be offered opiates. It also provides the option of a “partial fill” which allows patients, in consultation with their doctor, to request a lesser amount than indicated on the script; however, this language is permissive and pharmacists may use their discretion.

In an effort to build upon current prevention efforts, the legislation updates current law – which requires all public schools to have a policy regarding substance abuse education – by directing schools to report their plans to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  DESE will then consult with the Department of Public Health (DPH) to provide recommendations that will assist schools and ensure they are providing effective and up-to-date education. Additional education materials will be provided to all student-athletes.

Schools will be required to conduct an annual verbal substance abuse screening in two grade levels. These screenings are subject to appropriation and include an opt-out provision for students and parents. Additionally, school districts implementing alternative substance use screening policies may opt out of the verbal screening tool requirement.

To ensure that unused medications are safely collected and disposed of, this legislation requires manufacturers of controlled substances in Massachusetts to participate in either a drug stewardship program or an alternative plan as determined by DPH.

Over the past few years, the Legislature’s efforts related to substance addiction have focused on behavioral health and the prevalence of co-occurring disorders. This legislation requires the Health Policy Commission to conduct a study on access to dual-diagnosis treatment in the Commonwealth for children, adolescents and adults. To help ensure parity between behavioral and physical health care, the legislation also requires insurance companies to report annually on their denied claims.

This bill also:

  • Requires that contact information for all insurers be posted on the bed-finder tool website and updates the law to ensure the site is available 24 hours a day;
  • Requires that patients being discharged from substance addiction receive information on all FDA-approved medication-assisted therapies;
  • Ensures civil-liability protection for individuals who administer Narcan; and
  • Updates the training guidelines for all practitioners who prescribe controlled substances.

This legislation follows a 65.2% increase in substance addiction funding since FY12 and the landmark substance addiction law passed in 2014 which, for the first time, mandated detox and stabilization coverage. The two bills are intended to complement each other and reflect a consensus-driven approach.

Also on Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed legislation that creates statewide regulations for the ‘ride to hire’ industry. The bill will enable transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft, to continue to provide an innovative and valuable method of transportation for customers in the Commonwealth.

Representative Benson’s Monthly Office Update: February 2016

As I do each month, I would like to provide you with an update about the work I’ve been doing as your State Representative.

Around the District

On February 13, I attended Montachusett Home Care’s annual Legislative Breakfast in Leominster, where I heard from medical professionals, caretakers, and administrators who provide services to the elderly population. We discussed their budget priorities and Governor Baker’s FY 2017 budget recommendations.

Speaking at the Eagle Scout Court of Honor for Liam Jones and Alejandro Zambrano in Acton.

Speaking at the Eagle Scout Court of Honor for Liam Jones and Alejandro Zambrano in Acton.

I also met with the Town of Harvard’s Board of Selectmen to discuss their FY 2017 budget priorities, attended an Eagle Scout Court of Honor celebrating Liam Jones (a former intern in my District Office), and Alejandro Zambrano of Acton. Additionally, I arranged and attending a meeting between the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Town of Boxborough to discuss ongoing delays affecting a critical infrastructure project in town. MassDOT assured me and the town that the project would be completed in a timely manner.

The audience at the solar forum I hosted in Acton with Rep. Cory Atkins.

The audience at the solar forum I hosted in Acton with Rep. Cory Atkins.

On the 22nd, I hosted a forum in Acton along with State Representative Cory Atkins to listen to constituents’ concerns about solar energy legislation and the future of solar energy in Massachusetts. The forum was well-attended, and more than 70 of you showed up to discuss net metering, the solar capacity cap, energy policy, community solar, and other related topics for nearly two hours. After taking everyone’s opinions under advisement, I signed on to a letter addressed to my colleagues on the solar bill conference committee, urging them to consider the impact on the solar energy industry and solar customers as they work to reach a compromise on solar legislation.

While we’re on the topic of solar, I was also excited to learn of some good news for solar customers in Lunenburg last month. After nearly a year of discussions, Unitil, which provides electricity to most of the town, has agreed to pay for the grid improvements that will allow more solar projects to come on line in Lunenburg. The company came to the decision after numerous conversations with my office and months of pressure from constituents. I look forward to seeing more solar panels going up on roofs around Lunenburg.

At the State House

During the first formal Legislative Session of the month, I proudly voted in favor of H.3985, a House Resolution urging Congress to put forth and ratify a constitutional amendment to limit and regulate campaign contributions and expenditures, and expand public financing of campaigns. The resolution passed and was adopted on February 3.

My staff attended the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Gold Star Awards ceremony, where the organizers of the Essence of India festival, held each summer in Acton, were honored for their cultural contributions to the state. Additionally, I attended the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women event at the State House to help raise awareness about heart disease among women.

While I was in the district, my Chief of Staff was able to meet with a constituent from Harvard who works with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. They had an informative meeting where they discussed how the lives of those managing Crohn’s Disease could be improved, and the constituent’s and organization’s priority legislation.

Talking with a troop of Girl Scouts from Acton with Rep. Cory Atkins  in the House Chamber.

Talking with a troop of Girl Scouts from Acton with Rep. Cory Atkins in the House Chamber.

I also met with a troop of Girl Scouts from Acton, and gave them a tour of the House Chamber. I answered their questions about women in government and the legislative process, and presented them with citations congratulating them for earning their Inside Government badges. It was wonderful to see girls as young as 10 and 11 so interested in government and public service.

At a meeting with Matthew Beaton, the Secretary of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, I discussed my concerns with the Baker administration’s approach to the Commonwealth’s energy future, as well the issues of the circuit capacity solar cap in Lunenburg. It was a productive conversation, and I will continue to be in touch with Secretary Beaton.

Legislative Update

In February, a Home Rule Petition, An Act authorizing the commissioner of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to convey certain land to the town of Acton in exchange for other real property (H.3792), that I filed on behalf of the Town of Acton, was passed to be engrossed in the House. Additionally, on the last day of the month, An Act Relative to amending the Junior Operator Law (H.2948), which I sponsored this session, was heard by the Joint Committee on Transportation. H.2948 would ensure that parents and guardians remain informed of their children’s driving status and are positioned to help their children make responsible decisions.

Committee Update

The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure has concluded legislative hearings for the 2015-2016 Legislative Session, having heard testimony on and considered more than 200 bills. All joint committees are required to make their final report on bills in their committee (or report extension orders) by the third Wednesday in March of the second annual session of the General Court. This is referred to as the “Joint Rule 10 Deadline.” I have been working diligently with the Senate Chair of the committee and staff on this final report and will be continuing to do so until mid-March. If you have any questions about the committee process as we near the deadline for Joint Rule 10 I would encourage you to reach out to my office.

Budget Season

Throughout February, I have received many emails, letters, and phone calls from constituents advocating for funding for programs such as public libraries, developmental services, and local aid. My staff and I have also attended many organizations’ budget priority briefings at the State House.  I will continue to consider these requests as the House Committee on Ways and Means formulates their FY 2017 budget.

Looking Ahead

For March, I have several meetings scheduled with Boards of Selectmen, as well as plans to attend events throughout the District. I’ll also be preparing for the release of the House Committee on Ways and Means’ FY 2017 budget, so please continue to contact my office to express your budget priorities.

Serving the 37th Middlesex District has been a great honor. I have so enjoyed working with Acton, Boxborough, Harvard, Shirley, Ayer and Lunenburg. I would love to be able to continue doing so if you will have me. I have nomination papers and will be collecting signatures to secure a place on the ballot for the 2016 election. I would be very grateful for your support.

As always, I encourage you to reach out to my State House office via telephone at (617) 722-2014, or via email at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov. My District Office can be contacted at (978) 582-4146.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson