The problem of opioid addiction in Massachusetts requires concerted action on the part of public officials, and happily that action has already begun. Major strides will be made if a comprehensive bill to be debated in the state Senate on Tuesday is passed into law.
Governor Deval Patrick introduced an aggressive plan a couple of months ago and Berkshire agencies will introduce their own plan next month. The state Senate bill combines more than a dozen proposals from several senators into one package so the devastating addiction issue can be attacked from a variety of angles.
Highly addictive prescription painkillers are at the core of the problem, and the Senate bill would require a state panel to compile a list of substitutes for painkillers with a high risk of abuse which pharmacists would be required to distribute. While physicians could specifically request the riskier drug, the state's medical community has acknowledged the considerable risk of these drugs and will be counted upon to be cautious in prescribing them. The makers of Zohydro, a powerful painkiller the governor had unsuccessfully tried to ban, should stop fighting the state and work with it to assure that its drug doesn't fall into the wrong hands.
The bill would require insurers to pay for substance-abuse services and would negate the prior authorization requirement for patients needing up to three weeks of detoxification and follow-up care. Inadequate insurance coverage for addicts was an issue that arose during a public hearing in the county last month, and this provision should go a long way toward addressing it. The bill would require that a report on all overdose deaths be filed with the state Department of Public Health so that agency can collect better data on this affliction.
"We have to break the cycle of addiction before it breaks us," Senate President Therese Murray told The Boston Globe last week. Opioid addiction has broken too many in the Berkshires, with at least 16 opioid deaths in 2013, according to Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless. Lives have been ruined and families torn apart. Help, however, is coming.