PITTSFIELD >> Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless joined his counterparts from across the state Thursday in supporting Gov. Charlie Baker's legislation to help curb opioid abuse.
Capeless said the legislation has become necessary due to a lack of action on the part of the medical community to limit the amount of painkillers it prescribes to patients.
"The medical community has been reluctant to accept its shared responsibility in creating this crisis, and it is well past time for doctors to be forced to change their prescribing practices," said Capeless in a sharply worded statement released Friday.
"All of us in law enforcement see daily the tragic effects that addiction to opioid pain medications and heroin has on individuals, their families and their communities, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to make our communities safer and free from dangerous drugs," Capeless said.
Provisions in the bill include a restriction on the number of opioid painkillers a doctor may initially prescribe to patients, a requirement that clinicians check a statewide prescription database before prescribing opioids to a patient, and the authority for medical professionals to commit patients for substance abuse treatment if they pose a risk to themselves or others.
In his statement, Capeless criticized physicians whose over-prescribing of painkillers contributed to the epidemic and members of the Massachusetts Medical Society who have balked at the restrictions on their practices which they feel the bill would impose.
"The over-prescribing of opioid medications over the past two decades has been one of the key elements in the creation of the crisis of addiction that our communities now face; yet, despite repeated calls to reverse this pernicious trend, the flow of these dangerous drugs into our communities has only slowed down, not decreased," he said.
Capeless said he recently attended a conference co-hosted by the MMS and U.S. Attorney Carmen Oritz where the focus was on opioid abuse, but not on over-prescribing.
"I was dismayed to hear medical professionals assigning blame for the woes of addiction on their patients, rather than having the decency to accept the stark truth that the first steps down that long, tortured path started with their prescribing practices," Capeless said. "If they won't listen to advice or alarm, then legislation becomes necessary."
Capeless complimented efforts by Berkshire Health Systems to educate the county's medical community to the risks involved in prescribing opioid painkillers, but said more still needs to be done.
"The number of opioids prescribed in the county is five times what it was 10 years ago. We cannot be satisfied with keeping it there. The trend must be reversed. The results of over-prescribing have been drastic, and so the methods to deal with it need to be just as drastic," Capeless said.
In addition to the bill, Gov. Baker recently launched the "State Without StigMA," multimedia campaign to help remove the stigma of addiction, which prevents many from seeking treatment.
"Addiction is not a choice; addiction is a disease," Baker said at a Statehouse kickoff event, where he was joined by dozens of people in recovery. "It's a disease that's no different than diabetes or heart disease or congestive heart failure. And just as with these illnesses, those who suffer from them need our support, our understanding and our compassion."
The Pittsfield-based Brien Center applauded Baker's approach to eliminate the "shame and secrecy" that surrounds the opioid crisis in the commonwealth.
"Talking openly with each other about addiction is the best way to break down misconceptions and promote recovery and healthy communities," said the agency's CEO Christine Macbeth.