Sen. Eric Lesser Sounds Alarm on Substance-abuse Crisis at MAADAC Meeting

SPRINGFIELD — State Sen. Eric Lesser attended the Massachusetts Assoc. of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (MAADAC) annual meeting, where he provided a legislative update and answered questions on the status of drug-abuse and treatment issues in Western Mass. and across the Commonwealth. Some of the key issues of concern were opioid addiction in gateway cities and communities of color, Narcan access, affordability, workforce training, recovery coaching, and expanding parity and insurance coverage for mental health and other social-work services.

“Thank you for the dedication that you have shown to your patients, clients, communities, and to the world around you as we all have navigated this very difficult time,” Lesser said. “All of us need to collectively work to get this [information] out to the broader world so that we can refocus attention on the state level, get help to people, and get providers the support they need to do life-saving work in their communities.”

As the opioid crisis raged, Lesser worked with colleagues and community partners to reorient the response in Massachusetts toward treatment and prevention and away from a law-enforcement-focused approach. In 2015, there was only one drug court serving the entire four-county region of Western Mass., located in Greenfield, 38 miles from Springfield. Lesser worked with community organizations, the Trial Court, and local partners to set up a new drug court in Springfield to expand access to those with substance-abuse challenges in the criminal-justice system.

“We had serious challenges with access to Narcan in our state back in 2014 and 2015,” Lesser said. “We set up a new bulk-purchasing program for Narcan that brought the price down by about two-thirds. We got it into the hands of thousands of school nurses, recovery coaches, first responders, camp counselors. This was a life-or-death issue and was one of the big reasons why the death rates have gone down for opioids in particular in recent years.”

“The Massachusetts Association of Alcohol and Drug Counselors represents all the professionals who treat individuals with substance-use disorder,” said Joe Kelleher, MAADAC president. “This is an especially critical time for the profession, as the COVID pandemic has exacerbated the already-surging epidemic of alcohol and drug addiction. Massachusetts is fortunate to have one of the most extensive publicly funded treatment systems in the country.”

Added Lesser, “we have got to get tough on insurance companies and on MassHealth in making sure that provider’s services and broader services are reimbursed, and that they’re reimbursed at a rate that actually pays the bills and allows providers to do their work.”