Baker describes need to 'disrupt' Massachusetts opiate crisis


BOSTON >> Gov. Charlie Baker expressed anger or urgency about the crisis of overdose deaths in a meeting in his office Friday morning with behavioral health specialists and family members of people who have faced addiction.

"I think it's probably the first time most of us have ever been invited to meet with the governor on addiction issues, so that says a lot about the seriousness with which the governor is approaching this," Vic DiGravio, president and CEO of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare told reporters early Friday afternoon. "I think we also saw some anger from the governor about the predicament we're in."

"I prefer to think of it as urgency," Baker interjected during a press conference in his lobby with DiGravio, other medical professionals and members of Learn to Cope.

Baker will testify in favor of his legislative solution (H 3817) for the scourge of opiate abuse that has killed thousands when the bill is before the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse on Monday morning.

The bill would put a three-day limit on initial opiate prescriptions and would allow physicians to hold addicts for three days if they present a "likelihood of serious harm."

"It's a pretty high threshold in terms of meeting the criteria for involuntary treatment," said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

"The choice is you're either going to buy a casket and make an appointment at a funeral home or you have to beg somebody to help you get treatment for this person," said Joanne Peterson, founder of Learn to Cope.

Peterson told the News Service that a judicially sanctioned involuntary commitment of her son - a process known as Section 35 - was "what saved him." He has been in recovery for about a decade, Peterson said.

The Senate passed legislation (S 2022) Oct. 1, which did not include an involuntary commitment provision, focusing instead on a requirement for schools to verbally screen students for risky behavior and giving pharmacists the ability to dispense lesser amounts of dangerous painkillers. The House, which passed a bill (H 3798) heightening penalties for trafficking in the potent opiate fentanyl, has yet to take up broader opioid legislation.

"I don't think you can take something that has this much negative momentum and fix it by just futzing around at the margins. If you really want to just stop this you have to disrupt it," Baker told reporters. "Some of the proposals, as we've talked about, are viewed by many as being disruptive . . . but that was kind of the point."

Dr. Paul Summergrad, psychiatrist-in-chief at Tufts Medical Center, endorsed the idea of taking bold steps to address the deadly crisis.

"If we were losing four people a day to Ebola, or terrorist incidents, or other acts of violence, there is nothing that we wouldn't do to prevent and stop those deaths," Summergrad said. He told the News Service that the similar involuntary commitment law for people with mental illness who are likely to cause harm was previously 10 days and was then shortened to three days.

Baker has previously assembled sheriffs, prosecutors, medical students to back up his policy proposals. Asked whether he would bring together drug company executives, Baker said, "Good idea. We'll get them in."


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions