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Sen. L’Italien Announces Bold, Progressive Strategy In Congress To Disrupt Opioid Epidemic

Jun 26, 2018 06:43AM ● By Theresa Gilman

State Senator Barbara L’Italien

(Editor's Note: the following information was provided by the office of State Senator Barbara L’Italien.)

ANDOVER, MA — State Senator and congressional candidate Barbara L’Italien is rolling out Bold Steps: Disrupting an Epidemic - a comprehensive strategy to take on the opioid crisis that has stolen so many lives in the Massachusetts 3rd District.
 
By far the most progressive plan proposed by any of the candidates running in this race, Bold Steps addresses addiction with audacious proposals including supervised injection facilities and clean needle exchanges, and pushes for single-payer health care to make sure everyone can get treatment.
 
Senator L’Italien has been fighting for practical, progressive programs in the state legislature to help families through the epidemic. She is committed to pursuing a broad-based approach aimed at helping our kids avoid addiction, easing the dangers of opioids for those struggling so they can survive to seek treatment, ensuring treatment and recovery are accessible and affordable for all those who need them, and holding the corporations whose negligence sparked the crisis accountable.

“We’re all going to too many funerals. I know four people personally who have died of an overdose, and every day I hear about someone new with a loved one who is fighting opioid addiction. We’re getting plenty of lip service from Trump and congressional Republicans about how we must take action, but they’re actively undermining our health care at the same time,” said L’Italien. “The War on Drugs has failed us. It’s time to move beyond the criminalization-first approach, and get outside of the box with proposals that could really save lives.

“I’m going to make it my mission in Congress to protect our kids from opioids by intervening at every stage with bold, scientifically-founded and compassionate solutions. We cannot wait and we cannot allow elected officials to do nothing more than make empty promises full of vague generalities, or repeat the failures of the past. We need to respond to this crisis with the urgency we would if our own children were struggling, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Her comprehensive strategy is attached to this release and can be read in full here on her website. Its provisions are designed to provide the federal government, states and communities the funding to act; create the policy tools and legal frameworks to clear obstacles to life-saving options; set the standards public and private insurance must meet to fit the needs of all those looking for help; and protect and expand the health care safety net so that those struggling with addiction do not slip between the cracks.


I. AVOIDING ADDICTION
“Bold Steps” recognizes that protecting folks from getting addicted in the first place is the most painless place to break the cycle of addiction.

As a member of Congress, Barbara L’Italien will push to guarantee the funding we need to educate our medical workforce on the risks of prescribing addictive pain medication and on lower-risk pain management options, improve the means available to health care providers to identify patients who may be predisposed to addiction, support public health research into addiction and pain management, and run public messaging campaigns to reduce the stigma attached to getting help.

“So many of those caught up in this epidemic could have avoided addiction if medical professionals had more information and better tools,” L’Italien said. “We have an obligation to do more for those at risk in the future. Investment in education, research and public awareness now will pay off for patients in the long run, and the federal government is in the best position to support and coordinate these efforts.”

In the state legislature, L’Italien has sought to secure revenue streams to fund prevention and treatment programs for kids, including cosponsoring a bill to dedicate 3% of marijuana tax proceeds to supporting them. She has also cosponsored legislation to require insurance plans to cover non-opioid pain medications.

II. ADDRESSING THE DANGERS OF ADDICTION
Senator L’Italien will prioritize gutsy steps to keep people who are struggling safe from the dangers of addiction long enough to get them into treatment. She has never shied away from standing up for what’s right out of fear of the political cost, and she will stand up for communities who want to try controversial but effective programs to reduce overdose rates and safeguard against other risks of opioid use.

As a member of Congress, L’Italien will continue her work to support law enforcement access to the overdose reversal treatment Narcan and supporting the efforts of those like Senator Elizabeth Warren who are trying to secure more funding to ease the cost burden. She will also fight for federal support for health care workers to provide those struggling with the means to test street drugs for dangerous synthetics so they can avoid overdose and remove the risk of prosecution for those using the tests.

Finally, she will push to amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow communities to pilot clean needle exchanges and supervised injection facilities. In addition to protecting against overdose and the spread of HIV and hepatitis, these programs can bring those struggling into contact with government and health workers who can connect them with treatment.

“Taking a treatment-only approach that ignores the dangers to those already addicted will mean some of those struggling won’t survive long enough to recover,” L’Italien said. “It is easy to be dogmatic about this until it’s your child, your friends’ children, your children’s friends. When it is, you just want them to be safe, and I’m going to be a voice for those whose loved ones are in trouble.

“No one sets out to be a drug addict. Our policies need to reflect that reality.”

L’Italien has taken on some of this work already at the state level. She supported a budget line item in the State Senate to create a Narcan bulk purchasing trust, allowing the state to purchase narcan in large quantities at a lower cost and transfer the lower prices to municipalities for use by first responders. This is beneficial for communities like Lawrence, which have a serious need for this expensive and effective drug.

III. ENDING ADDICTION
For all their solemn discussion of how serious the opioid epidemic is, the current congressional leadership has put far more effort into making things harder for those trying to recover than they have into dealing with it. The Trump-Ryan push to sabotage Obamacare protections and kick people off of Medicaid could put serious barriers to those who are dealing with a substance abuse problem getting help.

At the foundation of “Bold Steps” is a commitment to blocking these attacks on our health care safety net by any means necessary, and fighting for a single-payer health care system so that every American can get affordable and accessible health care - including those who need it most.

L’Italien will also work to set higher standards for public and private insurance coverage, so that they address the high cost of Naloxone and extend the coverage options for medication-assisted therapies like buprenorphine and acute, step-down and long-term care. Further, she will fight to build a stronger, broader behavioral health and addiction treatment workforce. Right now, behavioral health care workers are stretched to capacity, and as a member of Congress Barbara will push for student loan forgiveness and closing the wage gap to attract more talented people into this crucial profession.

“The best treatment programs in the world won’t do a bit of good for someone who can’t afford them, or who there’s no room for,” L’Italien said. “If we’re going to help folks break their addiction, we need insurance providers to cover the right treatment plan in the right setting for long enough to meet their needs. We need to bring more folks into the behavioral health workforce, so we have people ready to help them through this transition. More than anything, we need a safety net those struggling can count on even if they lose their job or their insurance.

“Our health care system is failing working families, including those trying to get off of opioids. I’m proud to be the single-payer health care candidate, and I’m ready to do the hard work to shift us to a structure that will guarantee affordable health care for each and every American.”

L’Italien has been a co-sponsor of single-payer legislation in the state legislature for more than a decade, earning her the endorsement of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and Mass-Care, the state’s foremost single-payer advocacy organization.

She has also cosponsored legislation at the state level aimed at improving access to treatment and requiring insurance providers to cover at least 30 days of in-patient substance abuse treatment, along with dozens of budget amendments to increase funding for comprehensive programs that provide substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery options for all residents of Massachusetts regardless of income.

IV. TAKING ON THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE EPIDEMIC
This epidemic is in many ways a corporate-made tragedy. The negligent behavior of pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson spread opioid addiction across the country, as they aggressively marketed addictive drugs for pain management while minimizing or obfuscating their dangers.

Several states and localities, including Massachusetts, Haverhill, Lowell and Methuen, are suing pharmaceutical companies over their role in the opioid crisis. Senator L’Italien will push the Department of Justice to do the same, following in the footsteps of the lawsuit against Big Tobacco, and make sure such a legal effort has all the resources it requires to take on big drug companies with deep pockets in our courts.

“This is about justice for those who have suffered, and making companies think twice in the future before engaging in this sort of irresponsibility. Accountability may deter future epidemics,” said L’Italien. “More than anything, it is about transferring some of the cost of repairing the damage to those who caused it in the first place. Settlement funds can be used to fund programs to address the opioid epidemic, and that’s what we should be seeking.”

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