Continued progress in addressing Massachusetts’ opioid epidemic

Governor Baker and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts continue to reach milestones in the Action Plan to Address the Opioid Epidemic in Massachusetts, with the most recent development being the signing of a comprehensive law. The bill requires prevention education for students and doctors, a seven-day limit on first-time opioid prescriptions, screening for substance misuse, and voluntary treatment following an overdose. The bill was passed unanimously in the MA Senate and House.

Much of this legislation aims to prevent opioid addiction before it starts. The opioid prescription limit is the first in the nation, and caps first-time prescriptions for adults and all prescriptions to minors (with a few exceptions) to seven days. Physicians must consult the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program database before prescribing narcotics and meet continuing education requirements, including training on pain management, medication abuse, and addiction risks. Patients can direct providers not to prescribe them opioids, and choose to only partially fill opioid prescriptions.  Working with the MA Department of Public Health (MDPH) and MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, schools are required to conduct substance misuse screenings and implement addiction education policies. Drug manufacturers are required to participate in a drug stewardship program, such as a prescription drug take-back program, or an alternative, approved plan. The legislation also protects people who administer Narcan/naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, from civil liability. See a clip of Governor Baker’s press conference here.

This is the latest in several governmental steps to address the opioid crisis in Massachusetts. Legislation signed in January prohibited civil commitment for women with substance use disorder to MCI-Framingham, a correctional facility. Women can now be committed only to a facility approved by MDPH or the Department of Mental Health. Other legislation has strengthened punishment for people trafficking in fentanyl, a growing problem in Massachusetts and across the country.

Other developments in the past few months include the addition of more than 200 treatment beds, a requirement for faster reporting for the Prescription Monitoring Program, and bulk purchase discounts on Narcan for first responders. Partnerships with medical and dental schools will lead to the development of core competencies and increased opioid education for medical and dental students. Two significant media campaigns (#StateWithoutStigMA and Stop Addiction in Its Tracks have increased awareness about opioid abuse and pointed people in need to the MA Substance Abuse Helpline. And the state has increased its investment in the Helpline, which is now working to expand and enhance services. Watch for improvements to the Helpline website and improved access to treatment services in Massachusetts over the next several months!