Governor Baker prods state lawmakers to approve opioid bill

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BOSTON >> Republican Gov. Charlie Baker prodded state lawmakers Wednesday to agree on a final version of a wide-ranging bill designed to address the state's deadly opioid addiction crisis.

Every day that goes by another four people die in Massachusetts from opioid-related overdoses, Baker said.

"I hear nothing from the Legislature other than a desire to continue to expand our initiatives and to expand our fight against this epidemic, but the clock is ticking," Baker said. "Before we all get tied up in the budget debate that begins in earnest at the end of March, it would sure be nice to add one more tool to the toolkit."

The House and Senate have each approved their own version of the bill — both different in some ways from Baker's own proposal. A six-member House and Senate conference committee is working to hammer out a single compromise version.

The House version of the bill would limit initial opiate painkiller prescriptions to a seven-day supply and set an evaluation requirement within 24 hours for overdose victims seeking help at hospital emergency rooms.

The House bill differs from Baker's proposal that would let doctors commit patients involuntarily to drug treatment facilities for up to 72 hours if they're considered an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The governor's bill would also limit initial opiate painkiller prescriptions to a three-day supply instead of the seven-day supply in the House bill.

Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg said he favored the House proposal allowing hospitals to hold individuals for up to 24 hours, or until an evaluation can be done, rather than Baker's 72-hour involuntary hold.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Wednesday that House and Senate negotiators have been meeting to come up with the language of a final bill.

"I don't think there are really any large major, points," DeLeo said. "I think there are a number of small points that I think they're just trying to address, but I can't say there's one major issue that is really holding up the bill."

Also Wednesday U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Katherine Clark announced they're pushing legislation that would let patients request pharmacists only partially fill opioid prescriptions.

The bill's goal is to reduce the number of pills in circulation.

The Massachusetts Democrats joined with two Republican members of Congress — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio — in introducing the bill.

Warren says the bill will let patients and doctors determine pain treatment while limiting the number of unused pills left in family medicine cabinets.

Clark said access to those unused pills can be a first step to opioid addiction.

Baker made his comments as the state, law enforcement and the pharmaceutical industry launched "MyOldMeds Massachusetts," a public information campaign to highlight the safe use, storage and disposal of prescription drugs.

Earlier this week a new state law criminalizing the trafficking of fentanyl also took effect.

Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey says traffickers mix fentanyl — which can be deadly even in low doses — with heroin, often without the knowledge of the buyer, adding to the state's overdose deaths.

Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.


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