Senator Jennifer Flanagan

National Task Force Co-Chair Known as a Leader in Massachusetts

When Senator Jen Flanagan initially ran for office in 2004, she noticed an alarming trend -mental illness and substance use issues were largely left out of the conversation on healthcare. Having previously worked with adolescents after she completed her master’s degree in counseling, Senator Flanagan understood the importance of addressing mental health as it relates to the overall health of individuals and communities. She brought this passion to Women In Government as she initiated and currently co-chairs the National Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders.

Senator Flanagan has become a leader in mental health and substance use reform in her home state of Massachusetts, currently chairing the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, as well as the Special Senate Committee on Opioid Addiction Prevention Treatment, and Recovery Options. Among her many notable achievements, Senator Flanagan highlights legislation that forces insurance companies to pay for inpatient care for addiction treatment and post-detoxification services that was passed with bipartisan, unanimous support in 2014.

While she acknowledges that no one had challenged the insurance companies before, Senator Flanagan stated, “Taking bold steps is what we are here for.”

Other noteworthy legislation includes allowing patients to fill a partial prescription for painkillers to combat unwanted leftover medication as well as allowing patients to opt out of opioid prescriptions through the Prescription Monitoring Program. Senator Flanagan reinforced that the goal of these legislative efforts is to reduce addiction and illicit use while ensuring those with a medical necessity still have lawful and appropriate access to their medications.

Senator Flanagan spoke of the unique perspectives each legislator brings to the Task Force and that the presenters challenged attendees’ perceptions on mental health and state policies. She noted that mental health can be a scary topic for both communities and legislators to address, as situations are often life or death. However, when four people die of drug overdoses every day in Massachusetts, Senator Flanagan cannot ignore the impact of mental health and substance use on every aspect of our lives. She is hopeful that by opening a national dialogue, the National Task Force will demonstrate the many ways to help and be a part of the conversation.     

As Senator Flanagan looks to the future of the National Task Force, she believes Women In Government has an important role to play in shaping the conversation stating, “Women often carry the load of the physical and mental health of the family…we tend to gravitate towards the issue.”