It has been nearly 45 years since President Nixon declared the War on Drugs, but recent statistics suggest that the United States is losing battle after battle. Rates of opioid addiction are higher than ever, with the number of prescription medications being dispensed quadrupling since 1999. Deaths from heroin overdose are also on the rise. In the midst of this opioid epidemic, public health officials are looking for ways to curb opiate abuse. Now, lawmakers are stepping into the fray. The Massachusetts state legislature just passed an opiate addiction bill intended to combat the opioid addiction problem in that state.
Understanding the Massachusetts Opiate Addiction Bill
Massachusetts House bill H.3944 underwent considerable debate and more than 80 amendment proposals before being passed unanimously on February 10th. The bill was designed to be a comprehensive plan to combat Massachusetts opiate addiction. Key provisions of the bill include:
- Limitations on physician prescribing practices. Currently, physicians may prescribe opioids within their discretion as a medical professional. The Massachusetts bill requires that doctors writing an adult a first-time prescription for acute pain provide no more than a seven-day prescription for opioid medications. Patients under the age of 18 may not receive an opioid prescription for longer than seven days. Although there are exceptions for chronic pain or pain due to cancer, this significantly curbs doctors’ ability to write extensive prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
- Mandatory evaluations for individuals undergoing overdose. When a person presents to the emergency department suffering from an overdose, the patient must undergo a mandatory mental health evaluation before discharge. Although the patient must consent to getting treatment, the mental health professional would provide a thorough evaluation that includes treatment recommendations. The goal of this provision is to increase patient access to effective treatments for opiate abuse.
- School instruction about drug addiction. The Massachusetts bill requires schools to provide instruction on the effects of drug addiction to all students and student-athletes.
- Physician rationale for prescribing. Currently, physicians may write a prescription for opioid painkillers without making a note about the need for treatment. The new bill would require physicians to make an official treatment note in the patient’s medical record that states the reason for the painkiller prescription. The goal of this measure is to cut back on over-prescribing by some physicians.
- Central database for availability of treatment beds. Advocates for patient rights have long complained that it can be difficult to find a hospital with enough treatment beds to admit new patients. An amendment to the Massachusetts opiate addiction bill requires the state to create a central database that allows the public to identify the availability of services in real time. This will be a boon to patients who have difficulty getting the help they need.
- New commission to examine Massachusetts opiate addiction treatment centers. They adopted an amendment to create a new commission to investigate state-licensed addiction treatment facilities. The intention is to characterize the effectiveness and best practices, giving patients increased information about life-saving measures.
Evaluation of the Massachusetts Opiate Addiction Bill
It’s unclear whether the proposed bill will pass both the House and the Senate, before being signed into law. However, this bill represents a step in the right direction. Its goal is to provide comprehensive measures designed to curb the abuse of opiates in Massachusetts.
Some of the strengths of the bill include measures to limit physician prescriptions of opiates for acute pain. Currently, patients may begin by receiving a prescription following a routine surgery or other procedure. After taking prescription opioids for a long period of time, they gradually find it more and more difficult to control their use. Limiting first-time opioid users to a seven-day supply is one way to manage this tendency toward more chronic use.
Despite its strengths and attempts to increase treatment access, the bill could do more to help connect patients with the services they need. For example, the Waismann Institute® has almost two decades of experience helping patients overcome opiate addiction. Placing a focus on individualized treatment planning and supportive aftercare is the best way to ensure optimal outcomes. Although the Massachusetts bill is a step in the right direction, there has to be more action to control the epidemic.