Tackling the Opioid Crisis

The Massachusetts Federation of Young Republicans is proud to post content from Republican state legislators to keep our members apprised of legislation on Beacon Hill. This is the first in a series of guest posts by Republicans in the State House who are working on the legislation that matters most to Massachusetts.

By House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-20th Middlesex)

Of all the challenges facing the Commonwealth today, perhaps the most significant public health issue is how to deal with the state’s growing opioid crisis.

The statistics are sobering: An average of 4 people die from an opioid overdose every single day in Massachusetts.  According to the Department of Public Health (DPH), 263 of the state’s 351 cities and towns experienced at least one opioid-related overdose death between 2012 and 2014.

In 2014 alone, 1,089 people died from opioid use in Massachusetts, a 20% increase over the previous calendar year and a 63% increase over 2012.  DPH estimates the total number of confirmed opioid overdose deaths in 2014 could reach 1,256 once all cases are finalized.

To its credit, the Baker-Polito Administration has tackled this problem head-on, prioritizing legislation calling for expanded treatment, education and prevention measures.  The House Republican Caucus has embraced the Governor’s efforts, working collectively and collaboratively to ensure that providers have the tools and resources needed to deal with this serious epidemic, and that individuals struggling with addiction have access to treatment.

On January 13, the House of Representatives engrossed a comprehensive substance abuse bill that limits first-time opiate prescriptions for adults – and all such prescriptions for minors – to a 7-day supply.  It also requires hospitals to conduct a clinical assessment within 24 hours on individuals brought to the emergency room after an overdose, and contains provisions to ensure students in public and charter schools have access to substance abuse prevention information.

The House Republican Caucus offered multiple amendments to the bill, and although not all were successful, several were adopted that significantly strengthen the bill, such as:

    • requiring the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) to be utilized prior prescribing a schedule II or III narcotic;
    • requiring practitioners to complete a minimum of 5 hours training every 2 years in areas such as effective pain management, opioid antagonists and overdose prevention treatments, a provision including in the Governor’s proposal but missing from the initial House bill;
    • creating an advisory commission to explore allowing partial fill prescriptions, without additional co-payments, effectively reducing the number of excess prescription medications in circulation that can potentially be abused;
    • encouraging municipalities to designate secure prescription drug drop box locations where residents can safely dispose of any leftover and expired prescription drugs; and
    • establishing a special commission to explore ways to expand non-prescription access to Naloxone (aka, Narcan), a medication used to reverse the effects of an overdose.  

 

The Caucus argued, unsuccessfully, for the inclusion of language reducing first-time opiate prescriptions to a 5-day supply, and allowing overdose victims to be involuntarily committed for emergency treatment at a hospital or drug treatment facility for an initial 3-day period, which is currently allowed for individuals with mental illness and was included in the Governor’s bill.  Such a provision would help to break the vicious cycle that results in many overdose victims returning to the same emergency room multiple times.

Addressing the scourge of substance abuse that is tearing apart families and communities will not be easy.  We are off to a good start, but there is still much work to be done on this critical public health issue.

Representative Bradley Jones (R) is the Massachusetts House Minority Leader

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