Massachusetts Medical Society Expands Advocacy on Opioid Crisis

Physicians urge pilot supervised injection facility, wider use of naloxone, more treatment for substance use disorder

New policies are among many on public health and patient care approved at Society’s Annual Meeting April 29

Waltham, Mass. – May 1st – With the opioid epidemic continuing to grow as a public health epidemic, physicians of the Massachusetts Medical Society have expanded their advocacy in response to the crisis by adopting additional policies at their annual meeting in Boston on April 29.  

The new policies on opioids address five areas. 

Physicians voted to (1) advocate for a pilot supervised injection facility program in the state, to be under the direction and oversight of the state; (2) promote standing orders for the narcotic-overdose drug naloxone by physicians and encourage private and public insurers to include the drug on its preferred drug list with minimal or no cost sharing; (3) advocate for access to medication-assisted treatments for state and county prisoners with opioid use disorder; (4) urge the establishment and expansion of needle exchange programs; and (5) reaffirm and amend existing policy to state that the Society recognizes addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease and that the Society  will work to increase access to services for individuals with substance use disorder.

Medically-supervised safe injection facilities (SIF) are a harm-reduction strategy have been associated with declines in serious illness and disease, including HIV and hepatitis C. The new policy urging the creating of a pilot SIF includes advocating for an exemption from federal drug laws for the program and pursuing state legislation to legalize the pilot SIF.  The policy also recommends including an advisory board of experts to design evaluation protocols for the pilot and consideration of additional harm-reduction measures such as counseling and referral, to ensure comprehensive care is available to those with substance use disorder.

Adoption of these new policies are the latest in a long list of actions the physicians’ group has taken to address the opioid epidemic.  Two years ago, it created guidelines outlining best practices for prescribers that were adopted by the state Board of Registration in Medicine. At the same time, it began offering free educational courses in opioids and pain management for all prescribers, and to date, nearly 10,000 prescribers have taken more than 28,000 of the courses.  It has also conducted public information campaigns directed at patients to encourage the safe storage and disposal of medications and was instrumental in the passage of federal legislation to allow patients to get “partial-fill” prescriptions, both actions designed to reduce the amount of drugs that could be diverted to those for whom they were not prescribed – a major factor contributing to the opioid epidemic.   

The policies directed at the opioid epidemic were several among many adopted by the physicians on a variety of topics affecting public health and patient care. Among the others: 

Prescription Drug Donation -- Responding to the rising prices of drugs, physicians resolved to advocate for restoring state legislation that allows the recycling of unused, sealed, and dated drugs from nursing homes and to urge additional legislation to enact a prescription drug donation program, including cancer-specific drugs, that will assist patients in need who are uninsured or underinsured. 

Medicaid -- Delegates stated their support of Medicaid as a federal entitlement program and their recognition of the importance of Medicaid to covering the state’s children, disadvantaged, and disabled.

Telemedicine – To minimize barriers to care and reduce health care disparities, physicians resolved to engage in legislative and regulatory efforts to expand access for patients of physicians licensed in Massachusetts who wish to use telemedicine when it would be appropriate. 

Health Care Proxy – Recognizing that the lack of a health care proxy can result in unwanted care, physicians voted to work with the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care and the state legislature to encourage people to complete health care proxies and to create a Health Care Proxy Registry, available to health care providers with around-the-clock, secure access. 

Bullying – In reaffirming and expanding long-standing and wide ranging-policies on violence intervention and prevention, the Society stated its intention to provide training for health care providers on bullying, cyberbullying, and other form of harassment, with particular attention to the needs of vulnerable and marginalized groups. 

Environmental Health/Noise – Stating that there is an inextricable link between environmental health, animal health, and human health, delegates voted to initiate a public health campaign to promote awareness of the potential sources of pollutants and toxins in the environment and their impact on public health. In a separate resolution, physicians acknowledged noise pollution as a public health hazard with respect to hearing loss, and stated their support of initiatives to increase awareness of the health risks of exposure to loud noise.

Physicians also approved policies that:

  • Support state and federal legislation to extend protections to transgender individuals to use public restrooms in accordance with their gender identity;
  • Advocate for CPR training to be required as a condition of graduation from all high schools in the Commonwealth;
  • Urge the state to continue funding of Reach Out and Read, a literacy program for young children that has positive effects on health and language development; and
  • Support access to care and the elimination of stigma as strategies in mental health measures implemented by colleges and universities. 

Delegates also adopted resolutions pertaining to the organization’s bylaws, administration and management, and strategic planning.   

The Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Medical Society brings together hundreds of Massachusetts physicians from across the state to consider specific resolutions on public health, health care delivery, and organizational administration by the Society’s House of Delegates, its policy-making body. Resolutions adopted by the delegates become policies of the organization.

The Massachusetts Medical Society, with more than 25,000 physicians and student members, is dedicated to educating and advocating for the patients and physicians of Massachusetts. The Society, under the auspices of NEJM Group, publishes the New England Journal of Medicine, a leading global medical journal and web site, and Journal Watch alerts and newsletters covering 13 specialties. The Society is also a leader in continuing medical education providing accredited and certified activities across the globe for physicians and other health care professionals.  Founded in 1781, MMS is the oldest continuously operating medical society in the country. For more information please visit www.massmed.org, www.nejm.org, or www.jwatch.org

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