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Gov. Baker Signs 'Landmark' Opioid Legislation

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker speaking after signing the legislation Monday.
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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker speaking after signing the legislation Monday.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed wide-ranging legislation to combat the rise in opioid abuse Monday. The new law is months in the making.“Today, I just signed the most comprehensive measure in the country to combat opioid addiction,” Baker said.

Flanked by numerous state leaders, the Republican signed into law measures to prevent and treat opioid addiction and expand education about the dangers of the drug. The signing is the latest in the state’s effort to combat the rising tide of opioid and heroin use. Shortly after taking office in January 2015, Baker created a task force to recommend ways to address the issue —   many of which are being implemented. While thanking people who shared tragic stories of addiction, Baker became visibly emotional.

“May today’s bill passage signal to you that the commonwealth is listening and we will keep fighting for all of you,” said Baker.

The legislation limits an opioid prescription to a 7-day supply for a first-time adult prescription and a 7-day limit on every opiate prescription for minors, with exceptions including for cancer and chronic pain. It also requires medical professionals to evaluate overdose victims who seek help at emergency rooms within 24 hours.

Baker originally proposed limiting prescriptions to a 3-day supply and allowing medical professionals to commit a person to treatment involuntarily. Groups like the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the state’s branch of the ACLU expressed initial reservations about Baker’s proposal. The Republican said in December that most in the medical community philosophically agreed with his effort.

“To basically reduce the way we’ve used opioid medication for the better part of the past 10 years which has gotten us into a big part of the mess that we find ourselves in today,” Baker said. “And to create the kind of strategy around prevention, education, intervention, treatment and recovery that we’re going to need to bend the horrible negative trend that exists on this now across the commonwealth, flatten it out and then start to move it in the opposite direction.”

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the current legislation earlier this month. Democratic State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield in January applauded the governor’s bold call, saying lawmakers had the luxury of more time to consider potential negative impacts of the stricter limits.

“If someone got their hip replaced and they were only allowed a 3-day prescription, they physically have to go back to the doctor on the third day if they need more,” Farley-Bouvier said. “You can see where that would be a problem.”

The law also expands opioid screenings and education in schools, specifically for athletes and their parents.

The estimated rate of 17 deaths per 100,000 Massachusetts residents in 2014 is the highest ever for unintentional opioid overdoses and represents a 228 percent increase from 2000, according to data from the governor’s office. The state estimates that there were nearly 1,200 unintentional and undetermined opioid deaths in 2014. Preliminary data shows there were more than 1,100 opioid deaths in the first nine months of 2015.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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