Massachusetts Lawmakers Approve Bill Targeting Opioid Abuse

massachusetts-state-house-300x198BOSTON (AP) – Local lawmakers are praising a wide-ranging bill that aims to address the state’s deadly opioid addiction crisis.

The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday unanimously approved the bill that would limit initial painkiller prescriptions to a seven-day supply and set an evaluation requirement within 24 hours for overdose victims seeking help at hospital emergency rooms.

The House on Wednesday also approved the compromise bill worked out by a House-Senate conference committee, which included Plymouth-Barnstable State Senator Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth) and State Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich).

“I am proud to have joined my colleagues in the Legislature and the Administration to work on this important bill,” said deMacedo. “I believe we have passed legislation that will dramatically improve the lives of those affected by substance use issues and educate people about the dangers of addiction in order to prevent this scourge from affecting future generations.”

“This legislation works hand-in-glove with the governor’s opioid task force recommendations as well as recent significant funding increases to provide education, identification of persons at-risk, and smart ways to reduce the volume of opioid medications that can lead to illicit use,” said Hunt.

The bill would also allow patients to fill only part of their painkiller prescriptions at a time and require schools to verbally screen students for potential drug abuse. The legislation also calls on pharmaceutical companies to run a drug stewardship program

“Pharmaceutical companies must join us all in fighting drug abuse, and the drug stewardship program is an important way for them to do that,” said Cape and Islands State Senator Dan Wolf (D-Harwich)

Both chambers gave the measure final enactment votes before sending it to the desk of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who is expected to sign it when he returns from a vacation.

WHY HAS THERE BEEN SUCH ATTENTION GIVEN TO OPIOID ABUSE?

Massachusetts has been rocked in recent years by a spike in the number of opioid-related overdose deaths. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of confirmed unintentional opioid overdose deaths jumped 65 percent, to a total of nearly 1,100 in 2014. The final number will likely be even higher. The estimated rate of 17.4 deaths per 100,000 residents for 2014 is also the highest ever for unintentional opioid overdoses and represents a 228 percent increase from the rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2000. Preliminary data for January 2015 through September 2015 suggest a higher number of overdose deaths than during the same period in 2014.

___

WHY DOES THE BILL FOCUS SO MUCH ON PRESCRIPTION PAINKILLERS?

The bill would limit initial opiate painkiller prescriptions to a seven-day supply and let patients fill only part of their painkiller prescriptions at a time and fill the rest if needed. The bill would also require doctors to check the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program each time they prescribe an opioid to make sure patients are not seeking multiple prescriptions from doctors. The bill’s supporters say the restrictions are needed because so many people initially become addicted to opiates through prescription painkillers — including finding leftover pills in medicine cabinets — before moving on to drugs like heroin.

___

DOES THE BILL DO ANYTHING TO HELP STUDENTS AVOID GETTING HOOKED?

The bill requires schools to verbally screen pupils for substance use disorders at two grade levels to be set by the state education department in consultation with state health officials. Parents will be notified of the screenings at the start of the school year. A parent would be able to opt their child out of the screening process. Any statements made by the student during the screening process would be considered confidential.

___

WHAT ELSE DOES THE BILL DO?

The bill contains other strategies to combat opioid abuse including setting a goal that overdose victims who seek help at hospital emergency rooms undergo an evaluation within 24 hours before being discharged. The bill is also intended to help provide doctors and other health professionals with information on ways they can change their prescribing habits, including information on alternative, non-opioid, pain management options.

___

WHY NOT JUST TARGET DRUG DEALERS?

Lawmakers have also taken steps to toughen drug laws by passing a bill that was later signed into law by Baker. The new law creates the crime of trafficking in fentanyl for amounts greater than 10 grams with punishment of up to 20 years in state prison. Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey said the law will help police target traffickers who mix fentanyl with heroin, often without the knowledge of the buyer. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

About CapeCod.com NewsCenter

The award-winning CapeCod.com NewsCenter provides the Cape Cod community with a constant, credible source for local, regional, and national news. We are on the job seven days a week. You can also hear the CapeCod.com NewsCenter by tuning into Ocean 104.7 FM.

Speak Your Mind

*


More From CapeCod.com