HCN News & Notes

Governor Signs Landmark Opioid Legislation into Law

BOSTON — Yesterday at the State House, Gov. Charlie Baker signed landmark legislation into law to address the deadly opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing the Commonwealth.

He was joined by a group including Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Attorney General Maura Healey, Auditor Suzanne Bump, members of the Legislature, law enforcement, healthcare providers, community leaders, individuals in recovery, and others.

The bill, titled “An Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment, Education, and Prevention,” passed with unanimous votes in both legislative chambers and includes numerous recommendations from the Governor’s Opioid Working Group, including prevention education for students and doctors and a seven-day limit on first-time opioid prescriptions.

“Today, the Commonwealth stands in solidarity to fight the opioid and heroin epidemic that continues to plague our state and burden countless families and individuals,” Baker said. “I am proud to sign this legislation marking a remarkable statewide effort to strengthen prescribing laws and increase education for students and doctors. While there is still much work to be done, our administration is thankful for the Legislature’s effort to pass this bill and looks forward to working with the attorney general and our mayors to bend the trend and support those who have fallen victim to this horrific public health epidemic.”

Added Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, “today, we take another step forward by passing landmark legislation that will help the individuals and communities affected by the deadly opioid and heroin epidemic. We are grateful for the Legislature’s progress and for the partnership of Attorney General Healey, our mayors, and several others as we continue pursuing aggressive reforms to combat this crisis from the Berkshires to the Cape.”

The bill includes the first law in the nation to limit an opioid prescription to a seven-day supply for a first-time adult prescriptions and a seven-day limit on every opiate prescription for minors, with certain exceptions. Other provisions from the governor’s recommendations include a requirement that information on opiate use and misuse be disseminated at annual head-injury safety programs for high-school athletes, requirements for doctors to check the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) database before writing a prescription for a Schedule 2 or Schedule 3 narcotic, and continuing-education requirements for prescribers, ranging from training on effective pain management to the risks of abuse and addiction associated with opioid medications.

Several measures were passed to empower individuals and update current prevention efforts. Patients will receive access to non-opiate directive forms and the option of partially filling opioid prescriptions in consultation with doctors and pharmacists. Schools must annually conduct verbal substance-misuse screenings in two grade levels and collaborate with the departments of Elementary and Second Education and Public Health (DPH) around effective addiction-education policies. To reduce the prevalence of unused medication, manufacturers of controlled substances in Massachusetts must participate in either a drug stewardship program or an alternative plan as determined by DPH.

This bill strengthens access to insurers and the bed-finder tool website; requires that patients receive information on FDA-approved, medication-assisted therapies after being discharged from a substance-use treatment program; and ensures civil-liability protection for individuals who administer Narcan.

The opioid epidemic continues to impact every community in Massachusetts. According to the most recent data, it is estimated that there were nearly 1,200 unintentional and undetermined opioid deaths in 2014. The estimated rate of 17.4 deaths per 100,000 residents for 2014 is the highest ever for unintentional opioid overdoses and represents a 228{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} increase from the rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2000. And the trend isn’t slowing. Preliminary data estimations show there were over 1,100 opioid deaths between January and September 2015.