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Opioid bill passes House unanimously

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Special Correspondent

It is no longer unusual to know someone who has become a victim of the opioid epidemic.

Almost every town has seen residents struggle with addiction within the last five years. In 2016 alone, Medfield, Needham, Sherborn, Wellesley, and Westwood each had at least one person who died because of an opioid.

Unfortunately, the epidemic doesn't seem to be slowing down at all.

The number of deaths due to opioids has been on the rise over the last 17 years. From 2000 until 2016, Norfolk County saw 1,284 opioid-related deaths. By 2017, the number had risen to 1,438. Middlesex County recorded 2,593 opioid-related deaths from 2000 until 2016. In 2017, the number had increased to 2,905. There seems to be no sign of these deaths slowing down without any intervention. Instead, it appears that they are increasing at a rapid pace.

These numbers also do not account for the those who are profoundly affected by drug addiction in other ways. There are children who have been born addicted to drugs, and consequently suffer long-term side effects because of it. There are children who have been abandoned by one or both their parents because of drug addiction. There are medical professionals who have been seeking ways to handle this influx of addiction and overdoses within their communities.

A new bill, however, may give new hope to those suffering from addictions and their loved ones. Bill H.4742, an act for prevention and access to appropriate care and treatment of addiction, recently passed the State House unanimously with 147 votes.

Bill H.4742 is split into three sections. The first, “Prevention,” outlines steps created to prevent more cases of addiction. It includes allowing patients to only partially fill opioid prescriptions at a time, without paying additional co-pays. It also forbids any discounts and rebates for prescribed opiates, making it more difficult for addicts to afford these medications. Additionally, it instructs providers to check the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) before issuing any prescription for a benzodiazepine. The PMP provides providers with information on substances that may lead to addiction.

The second section of the bill, “Strengthen and Expand the Behavioral Health System,” establishes steps to help improve addiction-related healthcare. This section notes establishing “statewide remote consultation programs for substance use disorder,” as well as increased access to appropriate treatment involving primary care. It also includes the new requirement for electronic prescribing for all controlled substances (with few exceptions) starting in 2020.

The final section, “Treatment and Recovery,” includes new programs to help treat those with addictions. This section includes increasing access to Narcan, an opioid-blocking drug that is often used to treat overdoses, without an individual prescription. It also establishes a “two-year pilot programs to offer medication-assisted treatment at 6 prisons.” It also provides a new Center for Police Training in Crisis Intervention to aid law enforcement in their attempts to stop their epidemic. Additionally, it provides a “commission to study and make recommendations on the certification of Recovery Coaches.” Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it includes the establishment of a commission to study addiction treatment, such as “long-term relapse rates, overdose risk, legal implications, and capacity of the voluntary treatment system.”

At the moment, it is unknown whether or not Bill H.4742 will lower the number of opioid deaths in Massachusetts each year. However, Representatives Garlick and Dooley are hopeful that it will work.

In a press release about the bill, Representative Shawn Dooley expressed the significance and the importance of addressing the epidemic. “The opioid crisis is by far and away the number one public health crisis in the Commonwealth,” said Dooley. “As a firefighter and EMT I see this issue plaguing our communities here in the 9th Norfolk District. This isn’t just a city issue, it isn’t just a rural issue, it isn’t just a regional issue, it is a statewide plague that we must work to stop. I am proud to have not only supported but also contributed to this important bill. It is by no means the last step, however. We must continue to work to fight this societal evil.”

“The legislation looks to the future and says that a focus on prevention in the community and strengthening and expanding the behavioral health system will stem the tide,” read a statement from Representative Denise Garlick, chairperson of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “It looks to the present and says, ‘we are in this battle together to save lives through care and treatment,’ addressing the urgency that this is truly a life or death issue throughout the Commonwealth. Many of the resources in this bill will be available immediately -- removing barriers to desperately needed care and giving individuals, families and communities the tools they need, when they need them, where they need them.”

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