BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces that the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to address the ongoing substance abuse crisis in the state during their formal session on Thursday. The Senate’s bill 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.
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 state’s 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 went into effect this month, on October 1, 2015.