Boston: Opioid bill designed to 'disrupt the status quo'

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BOSTON >> Gov. Charlie Baker is acknowledging his opioid abuse bill likely won't reach his desk until sometime early in 2016.

But Baker said Monday he hopes lawmakers will continue to work on the legislation even after formal sessions end this week so they can get the measure to him during the first two months of the new year.

The bill was the focus of a public hearing at the Statehouse Monday.

Baker testified that his bill includes measures some may find extreme, but he said given the nature of the overdose crisis in Massachusetts, those measures are crucial.

"I understand that some of our proposals disrupt the status quo. They're supposed to," Baker said. "The status quo is unacceptable."

One of those proposals would restrict patients to a three-day supply of painkillers the first time they're prescribed an opioid drug, or when they receive a prescription from a new doctor.

Patients could seek refills after the three-day period and exceptions would be made for certain chronic conditions.

The goal of that measure is to prevent the overprescribing of painkillers that can lead to addiction and the use of illegal narcotics like heroin.

Baker's bill would also let doctors commit a person involuntarily to a drug treatment facility for up to 72 hours if they're considered an immediate danger to themselves or others.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who backs the bill, said the goal is to give individuals and their family members time to consider longer term treatment, including entering a detox facility.

"Often times when somebody overdoses and they come out of it and get out of the hospital, they don't go home and take a shower and eat a meal, they go right back to that place they were earlier and continuing shooting, putting drugs in their arms," Walsh said.

The president of the Massachusetts Medical Society Dennis Dimitri, MD., recommended a 7-day limit on opioid prescriptions, instead of Baker's 3-day limit, with exceptions for chronic and hospice care patients.

He also urged lawmakers to consider allowing partial-fill prescriptions — which allows patients to fill part of their painkiller prescriptions, and only fill the rest if needed.

Dimitri was more skeptical about Baker's involuntary commitment proposal, saying it may not end up helping patients if they don't have access to longer term treatment.

"My colleagues in emergency medicine and hospital leadership are concerned that this proposal could create a new standard of care requiring all patients who are suspected of having the potential to overdose to be involuntarily hospitalized," he said in his testimony. "This will result in new demands on hospital medical and psychiatric beds that are already severely strained."

Massachusetts Nurses Association President Donna Kelly-Williams called Baker's proposal alarming.

"Our emergency departments are already overcrowded with patients suffering from mental health conditions due to the lack of beds and services in the system," she said. "The addition of thousands of patients suffering from addiction will only exacerbate this crisis."

Massachusetts is grappling with a frightening rise in opioid-related overdose death. The state recorded 1,089 such deaths in 2014, a 63 percent increase over 2012.


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