Gov. Baker pushes new opioid crisis measures

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Along with adding to the ranks of "recovery coaches," legislation proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker seeks to improve access to treatment for people addicted to opioid drugs.

A bill the governor filed in November, known as the CARE Act, is now before legislative committees on Beacon Hill.

If enacted, it would build on programs begun in 2016 to address a problem linked to more than 10,000 fatal overdoes in Massachusetts since 2010. Earlier action included adding to the number of available treatment beds, new anti-addiction education efforts and the nation's first seven-day limit on new opioid prescriptions for adults.

As presented by Baker, the new bill would:

- Build on the state's earlier opioid legislation by doing more to reach people who arrive at hospital emergency departments after overdosing. While the 2016 reforms mandated that patients be offered substance abuse evaluations, 50 to 90 percent of those who survive overdoses decline to receive them.

Baker is proposing to expand who can provide evaluations, so they can be done more quickly. Hospitals would be directed to work to connect patients with voluntary treatment. They would also record overdose incidents and substance abuse evaluations in a patient's electronic records.

Further, hospital staff would be able to authorize a patient's involuntary transport to a treatment facility. And medical staff would be added to the list of parties that can petition a court to compel treatment.

- Keep closer track of prescribed opioids. Though the 2016 reforms limited doses of opioid prescriptions and required use of a prescriptions database, the proposed measures would phase out use of paper prescription forms as well as those communicated orally. The change would compel prescribers to use an electronic system.

Proposed rules would also strengthen oversight of the seven-day prescription limit, add an addiction expert to the Board of Registration in Nursing and set up a panel to recommend policy on drug use in dental procedures.

- Create a $2 million trust fund in the next fiscal year to finance expansion of anti-opioid education programs. That work would include steps to identify young people at risk of developing addictions.

Separately, through administrative actions, Baker's office says it will allocate federal Medicaid money to expand access to residential treatment and the use of medication-assisted treatment against addiction.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.

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