Pubdate: Wed, 09 Mar 2016
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: David Scharfenberg
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Governor Charlie Baker sought much tougher legislation to deal with 
the opioid addiction crisis, but his spokesman said Tuesday that the 
current bill is "a strong step in the right direction.

The Legislature is poised to approve a bill this week that would 
require schools to conduct screenings of students for drug abuse and 
work to curb opioid use by limiting doctors' initial prescriptions to 
seven days.

Parents and students would have the ability to opt out of the screen, 
which would come in the form of a confidential interview with 
children at two still-to-be-determined grade levels.

The long-awaited legislation, the product of a compromise between 
House and Senate negotiators, is Beacon Hill's latest response to an 
opioid scourge that leaves about 100 Massachusetts residents dead every month.

The measure is not as far-reaching as a proposal made by Governor 
Charlie Baker last fall. But his office offered praise for the 
legislation Tuesday night.

"Governor Baker appreciates the Legislature's work on this bill, 
which takes a strong step in the right direction," said Lizzy Guyton, 
a spokeswoman for the governor, in a written statement, adding later, 
"moving forward, the administration is committed to collaborating 
with the Legislature, law enforcement, and treatment providers to 
continue fighting this public health crisis."

The opioid scourge has become an urgent priority for government 
officials across the country, bedeviling lawmakers from New Hampshire 
to Washington state in recent years and seeping into the 2016 
presidential race.

Baker has made tackling the issue a top priority. And the legislation 
that emerged Tuesday night counts as a partial victory.

In October, the governor called for a tight, three-day limit on 
initial opioid prescriptions. But the proposal ran into stiff 
opposition from the Massachusetts Medical Society and other prominent 
medical groups, which argued it interfered too much with the 
doctor-patient relationship.

Lawmakers are in position to approve a seven-day limit instead, with 
exceptions for acute medical conditions, chronic pain, pain 
associated with cancer diagnoses, and palliative care. That 
compromise drew praise from Dennis Dimitri, president of the Medical 
Society, who said Baker's proposed three-day limit "could really be 
detrimental" to patients trying "to get adequate pain medications."

The governor also wanted to give hospitals new authority to hold 
addicts against their will for 72 hours, evaluate them, and decide 
whether to seek legal permission for substantially longer commitments.

Critics raised civil liberties concerns and maintained that the state 
does not have enough treatment beds to accommodate the spike in 
patients the policy might create. Legislators dropped the 72-hour 
hold proposal and swapped in a measure requiring an evaluation, 
within 24 hours, of anyone who arrives at an acute care hospital with 
signs of an overdose.

Lawmakers say the opioid problem is complex. And the bill, set for a 
vote in the House on Wednesday and in the Senate on Thursday, takes a 
wide-ranging approach, touching pharmaceutical companies, doctors, 
patients, and students.

State Senator Jennifer Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat who pushed for 
the school screenings, said her measure and the provision requiring 
an evaluation for those who show up at hospitals with signs of an 
overdose would create "some new entry points into treatment that we 
didn't have before."

Another provision of the bill would allow patients to partially fill 
their prescriptions - declining to take the full number of pills 
prescribed by their doctors.

The legislation would also require pharmaceutical companies to 
develop plans for the collection and disposal of unwanted 
medications. Such plans could include, among other things, drug 
mail-back programs and more kiosks where patients can drop off 
medications they do not need.

Lawmakers across the country have struggled to contain the opioid 
crisis. But Massachusetts legislators said Tuesday night that they 
are optimistic the new bill, if passed as expected, can have a real effect.

"I honestly think it has the capability to make a profound impact on 
people's lives," said state Senator Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat 
who chairs the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee. "With this 
bill, we're engaging the entire health care ecosystem."

Brian Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat who is chairman of the House Ways 
and Means Committee, said in a statement that the legislation 
includes "significant new policies that will help to fight the opioid 
epidemic impacting all corners of the Commonwealth."

The legislation released Tuesday night was a blend of proposals from 
the House and the Senate. If lawmakers approve the measure, it would 
go to Baker for his signature.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom