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opioid-legislation-filedSince taking office in January, the Baker-Polito Administration has made it a top priority to battle the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. In February, the Governor established a Working Group tasked with formulating a statewide strategy to combat addiction. This 16-member panel released a report detailing 65 actionable steps in June, several of which began to be implemented immediately. However, with legislative action required to institute certain reforms, on Thursday, October 15, Governor Baker filed landmark legislation targeting substance use.

“Combatting the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth calls for a comprehensive approach, and filing today’s landmark legislation is a critical step toward creating more effective treatment pathways and better controlling opioid prescribing practices for first-time patients,” said Governor Charlie Baker.

72 Hours

This legislation will limit the prescribing practices for first-time opioid prescriptions to only allow a 72-hour supply of medication, with few exceptions. This means the first time your doctor prescribes you an opioid, or when you visit a new doctor, you will only be supplied with a limited quantity.

“[This provision] will help to minimize excessive exposure to opioids and still ensure that patients with pain are treated with dignity and get access to compassionate care and that physicians can still exercise their clinical judgment,” said Dr. Sarah Wakeman, a Working Group member and medical director for substance abuse disorders at Mass General Hospital.

Landmark Substance Use Legislation Announcement, 10.15.15

Rethinking the approach treatment and creating new pathways to help patients get access to the support and services they need is a critical piece of the way forward on this epidemic. Currently, individuals suffering from substance use disorders can only be held for treatment through a court order, but courts are not always in session on nights, weekends, or holidays. This severely limits access to 24-hour “front doors” to treatment for families and patients.

To remedy this, “An Act Relative to Substance Use Treatment, Education and Prevention” provides medical personnel with the power to intervene with patients suffering from addiction who pose a danger to themselves or others. This provision parallels an existing law that permits a 72-hour period of involuntary treatment where a physician determines that a person suffers from a mental illness and poses a serious risk of harm.

“We are seeking to give medical professionals the ability to save lives and offer critical support for people who may be running out of time and running out of options in their personal war against addiction,” said Governor Baker in announcing the bill.

Civil Commitment, Practitioner Education, & Student Athletes

Another key part of the legislation is putting an end to the practice of sending women committed for substance use treatment to MCI Framingham. Instead, these women will get the treatment they need at new secure treatment units approved by the Departments of Public Health (DPH) and Mental Health (DMH).

With a Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) already in place, this proposal seeks to make it even better by requiring every practitioner, including emergency room clinicians, to check the PMP before prescribing painkillers. The Mass Hospital Association has already started to encourage emergency rooms to limit opioid quantities to prevent overprescribing practices that can lead to drug abuse and addiction.

“This legislation will allow us to continue progress in order to bend the trend of overdoses and addiction that is devastating individuals, families and our communities,” said Marylou Sudders, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Chair of the Opioid Working Group.

To address a glaring omission in training, any practitioners prescribing controlled substances must receive five hours of training every two years related to effective pain management and the identification of patients at high risk for substance use disorder. Furthermore, all public schools subject to MIAA rules will be required to provide training for parents, coaches, and trainers, as well as school nurses, on the dangers of opioid use. This training will piggyback on the annual mandatory head injury safety training program.

* * *

opioid-epidemic-action-plan-updateTo date, the Baker-Polito Administration has:

  • signed a budget to allocate more than $114 million in spending for substance misuse prevention, education and treatment;
  • increased bulk purchasing of Narcan in municipalities;
  • changed reporting requirements for the Prescription Monitoring Program from 7 days to 24 hours;
  • opened 113 treatment beds in six communities (Quincy, Princeton, New Bedford, Boston, Westborough, Fall River) with more expected in Greenfield this winter;
  • named a Drug Formulary Commission to look at the safety, effectiveness and cost of abuse deterrent pain medications;
  • met with the Massachusetts Medical Society and state medical school deans and issued best practices guidelines for opioid prescribing;
  • launched a series of multi-media public service announcements to warn the Commonwealth of opioid use;
  • and plans to unveil a new public campaign to tackle the stigma of addiction soon.

“The mission of the Administration is to use a comprehensive and all-encompassing approach that creates new pathways—ranging from the education of our kids to reformed recovery services for those with addictions,” concluded Governor Baker. “We cannot do this overnight, but we are dedicated to pursuing every effort. I look forward to working with the legislature, who is equally passionate about making progress on this epidemic, to find common ground and pass reforms into law in the near future.”

A full update on the Governor’s Opioid Working Group progress can be found at:

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