BOSTON –The Massachusetts legislature recently passed An Act for prevention and access to appropriate care and treatment of addiction and Governor Baker has signed the bill into law. This legislation builds upon earlier efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, and further establishes Massachusetts as a national leader in efforts to strengthen education, prevention, treatment, and addiction recovery.
“The passage of this vital legislation marks another step forward in addressing the devastating opioid epidemic in our communities,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health. “I’m grateful for the extensive input of patients, medical professionals, law enforcement, public health experts, community members and other stakeholders in the development of this legislation to ensure that it is as comprehensive and effective as possible in strengthening addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery.”
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health earlier this year estimated there were 1,977 opioid-related overdose deaths in the state last year. This number is down 8 percent from the 2,155 deaths in 2016. To continue to reduce the number of overdose deaths and reduce opioid addiction rates, the legislation increases access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), expands prevention efforts, and addresses the high rates of co-occurring conditions of substance use disorder (SUD) and mental illness.
“Our communities are being deeply harmed by the opioid crisis and substance use disorder, and we all know a neighbor, friend or loved one who has been hurt, sometimes irreparably, by addiction,” said Paul Hammersley, City of Malden Addiction Recovery Resource Specialist. “We need to continue to take strong action on all fronts to fight back against this epidemic and equip people in Massachusetts with all available tools to accomplish that goal. I’m glad that the state legislature has taken this important step.”
Under this bill, someone who receives treatment in an emergency room for an opioid overdose will now have the opportunity to begin treatment for their substance use disorder before they leave the care of the emergency department. The bill requires that all emergency facilities have the capacity to initiate voluntary SUD treatment, including opioid agonist treatment, after treatment for overdose.
Opioid agonist treatment commonly includes the use of Buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone, which is an evidence-based treatment that eases the symptoms of withdrawal and relieves opioid cravings. It can be administered as early as 8 to 24 hours after a patient’s last exposure to an opioid. This timetable allows treatment to begin in the emergency department soon after an overdose, when someone with a SUD may be most willing to consider treatment. They will also receive a direct referral to a provider in the community who can continue their treatment regimen after they return home.
The legislation also directs the Department of Public Health to issue a statewide standing order authorizing every pharmacy in the state to dispense naloxone (narcan), eliminating the current requirement that each pharmacy obtain an individual authorization, and making this life-saving medication even more widely available.
In addition, this legislation recognizes the important role that recovery coaches play in successful long-term addiction and mental illness treatment by creating a commission to recommend standards for establishing a professional credential for recovery coaches as an important step toward formalizing the role that they play in the pathway to treatment and recovery.
The bill also creates a community-based Behavioral Health Promotion and Prevention Trust Fund to support and promote positive mental, emotional and behavioral health among children and young adults and to prevent substance use disorders among children and young adults.
To reduce fraud and drug diversion, and improve tracking and data collection, the bill requires that by 2020 all prescribers convert to electronic prescriptions for all controlled substance prescriptions.