Sharing Information on Opioid Use: How can Health Care and Local Government Partners Communicate to Save Lives?

As part of the work that supports the Metro Mayors Coalition (MMC) in addressing the opioid crisis, MAPC, in partnership with Mass General Hospital, hosted a forum on information sharing at MGH’s Revere HealthCare Center. The event, “Sharing Information on Opioid Use: How Can Health Care and Local Government Partners Communicate to Save Lives”, brought together nearly 40 municipal and healthcare stakeholders to discuss ways to overcome existing barriers as well as best practices to improve data and information sharing.

The forum featured presentations on relationship building, existing service delivery, and State and Federal Privacy laws from the City of Chelsea, MGH Revere, and the Harvard CyberLaw Clinic. Participants had a chance to breakout into groups to identify common barriers to information sharing and potential next steps.

Dan Cortez (Chelsea Police Department’s Community Engagement Specialist), David Batchelor (Captain of the Chelsea PD), and Tom Ambrosino (Chelsea City Manager) discussed and highlighted the successes of the Chelsea Hub. The program brings together municipal, healthcare, and multiple human service sector providers to assist individuals at a high risk of harm in Chelsea, which has been particularly effective for assisting individuals with Substance Use Disorders (SUD). The presentation stressed the importance of relationship building between the city and local healthcare providers in order to provide effective service delivery and connect SUDs to services.

Dr. Sarah Wakeman of Revere MGH presented on the comprehensive strategies employed by MGH to assist those with a SUD, specifically the strategies implemented for individuals suffering from an opioid use disorder (OUD). Dr. Wakeman defined trends in prescribing practices that led to the onset of the epidemic, current practices amongst health care providers that aim at rethinking addiction as a chronic illness, and ways to prevent individuals from being exposed to addictive opioids. Dr. Wakeman then detailed the wrap-around, multi-faceted treatment options Revere MGH offers patients.

Mason Kortz, a clinical instructor with the Harvard CyberLaw Clinic, presented on the State and Federal privacy laws that providers encounter when providing multi-sectoral care for persons with OUDs. This included an overview of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), HIPPA Part 2, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and Mass General Laws covering privacy. Mr. Kortz then explained the known exemptions to the law and went through scenarios in which information and data sharing interacts with the law.

After the presentations, breakout groups shared examples from their work and discussed barriers to information sharing that impeded strategy delivery. Various measures for further exploration were identified, such as uniform consent forms, advocacy for HIPAA guidance, and provider education. Overall, this forum laid the ground work for future program and advocacy work that MMC can conduct to address the opioid epidemic. This work is part of a larger scope to improve strategies that combat the crisis, including funding reform and improving wrap-around service delivery for those with substance use disorder.

To find out more about State and Federal Privacy Laws, click here to access “Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: Information Sharing in the Context of State and Federal Privacy Laws”, put together by the Harvard CyberLaw Clinic and designed by MAPC’s Kit Un.

For more information on the Metro Mayors Coalition work on this issue, please contact Christine or Sharon Ron,