Massachusetts Law Aims at Reducing Opioid Overdoses

Law is designed to decrease opportunities for non-patients to obtain painkillers.

Law is designed to decrease opportunities for non-patients to obtain painkillers.

In an attempt to stop opioid deaths, including those from heroin, Massachusetts has a new law intended to combat opioid addiction. Governor Charlie Baker called the law the most comprehensive in the nation. The law became effective immediately, but some parts could take longer – weeks or months – for full implementation.

Major parts of the bill follow: A seven day limit is required for all first-time opioid prescriptions.  Patients who wish to do so may fill only part of their painkiller prescriptions at a time. People treated for overdoses in emergency rooms must undergo evaluation within 24 hours and be given   treatment options before discharged. Schools are required to establish substance abuse policies and to verbally screen middle and high school students to assess their risk of drug addiction, but parents can choose not to have their children screened. There are also new training programs for health care providers and law enforcement personnel.

Those who support the bill contend that most heroin addicts first become addicted to painkillers that were either prescribed or obtained illegally. Hopefully, the law will eliminate some of those opportunities. Senate President Stan Rosenberg said the law represents a philosophical shift from treating addiction as a crime to treating it as a disease.

State figures show that approximately 1,200 people – about four people daily – died of opioid-related overdoses in 2014. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said, “If the [law] helps one family and one addict, it’s done its job.”

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