BOSTON – Senator Jamie Eldridge voted to pass legislation on Thursday to address the ongoing substance abuse crisis in the state. The legislation focuses on prevention and reducing the number of opiate pills in circulation by working with doctors, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and pharmacists.
In addition, the bill provides for verbal screenings by a qualified and properly trained professional to ask middle and high school children about their attitudes and behaviors about drugs and alcohol to prevent further misuse of drugs and refer at-risk teens to treatment to stem the tide of the crisis. By expanding a prescription take back program, the bill seeks to further limit the excessive number of unwanted and unused prescription pills that become accessible to youth and adults for diversion and misuse, and hold private companies accountable for their role in the substance abuse epidemic. The bill also establishes a patient right to fill their prescription for a schedule II opiate, the highest risk classification under DEA rules, in a quantity less than the full prescribed amount, further reducing the quantity of unused and excess drugs.
“As the opioid crisis continues to claim more and more lives and devastate communities in Massachusetts, the Senate is taking strong steps to address the opioid crisis at all stages,” said Senator Eldridge. “The bill focuses on early intervention, responsible pain management and drug exchange programs to prevent substance abuse before addiction can take hold and tear families’ lives apart.”
“Last year we focused our efforts on expanding treatment for individuals fighting opiate addiction. Today, the Senate took action and passed legislation that focuses on prevention by reducing the amount of pills in circulation,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “The message we are sending is very clear: the Senate remains committed to fighting the opioid crisis in every way we can.”
“We must offer assistance to students in our public schools while they are young, able to change their behaviors, and are not yet mentally and physically dependent on drugs and alcohol,” said Senator Jennifer L. Flanagan (D-Leominster), Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Opioid Addiction, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Options. “Kids who need this kind of help will appreciate being asked honestly about their needs, and schools will be given a valuable tool in this battle against addiction. I look forward to the Senate taking up the closeout supplemental budget the House passed yesterday which contains funding for this program.”
Senator Keenan called the bill “the most comprehensive action we’ve taken yet. We are really changing the way we approach addictive pharmaceutical products at every step, from manufacturer, to prescriber, to dispensing, down to individual patient choice and the broader availability of alternative pain management options, to start turning around our over-reliance on these products.”
“Our actions in the Senate today will help to prevent the human and economic costs caused by abuse of opiates and pain killers and give hope to those families who have struggled to aid a loved one suffering with addiction,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “We engage the resources of state agencies, physicians, local public safety and public health professionals and others to expand access to treatment and drug stewardship programs while reducing the over prescribing of opiates.”
Provisions of the legislation include:
• Add Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) to the list of screenings a school conducts to identify youth engaging in risky or abusive behaviors and matching them with appropriate services before they become dependent on drugs
• Increase access to specialists who specialize in pain management and treatment by creating a program for remote consulting for physicians working with individuals experiencing chronic pain and creating a holistic plan for each patient, similar to the model used for access to child psychiatry.
• Require pharmaceutical companies to establish or participate in drug-take back programs to further reduce the number of pills accessible in homes or pay an assessment into a prevention trust fund based on the quantity of the product being dispensed in Massachusetts
• Protect “Good Samaritans” who administer naloxone to an overdose victim from civil liability. Currently the state only guarantees protection from criminal prosecution for carrying and administering this prescription product.
• Require that Gabapentin, a drug increasing in popularity for its enhancing effect on opiate misuse, to be reported and monitored by the Prescription Monitoring Program
• Require that all schedule II opiate prescriptions be written in an “up to” quantity, allowing patients to voluntarily reduce the amount dispensed; and require prescribers to educate patients about their right to receive lesser quantities of opiates.
• Allow patients to voluntarily record a non-opiate directive, as a binding instruction to prescribers that the patient should not be offered an opiate; thereby allowing persons in recovery or for any other reason to indicate their preference for non-opiate pain management.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The Senate Special Opioid Committee first convened in January 2014 in response to the substantial increase in reported overdose emergencies and fatalities throughout communities in Massachusetts.
The first piece of legislation released by the Committee and signed into law in August 2014 required private insurance companies to cover up to 14 days of detoxification services and inpatient treatment for private insurance clients, 14 days of inpatient treatment for MassHealth patients, and expanded treatment options for patients and doctors. The insurance coverage mandates go into effect today, October 1st, 2015.