The signing of a new state opioid addiction law could come today, and while progress has been made in this battle, this law could make a dramatic difference.
The law, a compromise between Governor Baker and the Legislature, addresses both prevention and treatment in confronting a problem of epidemic proportions in Massachusetts, killing an estimated four people a day. No corner of the state, including Berkshire County, has been immune, and no demographic group has been unaffected.
Among its provisions, the bill will impose a seven-day limit on initial opioid prescriptions and allow individuals to receive a lesser amount of painkillers than listed on a prescription. This will make it less likely that users will become addicted and then resort to heroin use when their prescriptions run out of their legal drugs become too expensive, as heroin, unhappily, is cheap and readily accessible.
Medical professionals will be required to undergo training in substance abuse. Out of a well-intentioned effort to reduce pain levels in patients, the medical community contributed to overuse of painkillers, which it was addressing before this law was crafted.
The law also features a protocol treatment for people who seek voluntary treatment for their addiction. It will be covered by health insurance, so people won't have to add financial worries to their addiction worries, and the focus will be on help not punishment. The law enforcement community in the Berkshires and in the state are focused on the dealers who profit from the misery of others and are helping addicts who want to kick their habit.
On Friday, the Obama administration announced through the Department of Health and Human Services that it would provide additional funding for the New England states to confront their heroin epidemic. Remarkably, the US Senate managed to put aside its differences last week to pass a bill that among other provisions, finances recovery programs and creates drug treatment programs that are an alternative to prisons.
Governor Baker, who has made the opioid epidemic a priority, told The Eagle last December that he hoped passage of the law would slow the growth of addictions and deaths in the months following passage. That is a realistic goal. Reversing the tide will take more time but with communities, the state and Washington working together, it can happen.