House, Senate panel approves final version of opioid bill
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a final version of a bill designed to address the state’s deadly opioid addiction crisis.
The bill would limit initial opiate painkiller prescriptions to a seven-day supply and set an evaluation requirement within 24 hours for overdose victims seeking help at hospital emergency rooms.
It would also allow patients to fill only a portion of their painkiller prescriptions at a time.
The bill differs from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal that would have let doctors commit patients involuntarily to drug treatment facilities for up to 72 hours if they’re considered an immediate danger to themselves or others.
The six-member House and Senate conference committee also rejected Baker’s stricter proposal to limit initial opiate painkiller prescriptions to a three-day supply.
Despite the differences, Senate President Stan Rosenberg credited Baker Tuesday evening during an appearance with fellow Democrat House Speaker Robert DeLeo on the “Greater Boston” program on WGBH-TV.
“The governor started that process. The House improved it,” Rosenberg said.
Baker had pressed lawmakers in recent weeks to get him a final version of the bill to sign.
DeLeo acknowledged the long process needed to reach a final bill.
“This has been one of those subject matters where everyone agrees we had to do something,” DeLeo said, but added that “a lot of people had a lot of different opinions about what was to be the final resolution.”
The compromise bill would also let patients fill part of their painkiller prescriptions, and only fill the rest if needed.
“The doc and the patient can talk about what that particular patient will need,” Rosenberg said. “Let’s say it’s 30 pills and the prescription is for 60 pills, they can go to the pharmacist and the pharmacist can give them only as many as they would like to take home.”
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Katherine Clark are pushing similar legislation in Congress that would let patients request pharmacists only partially fill opioid prescriptions.
The Massachusetts Democrats said the goal of the legislation is to reduce the number of pills in circulation.
Baker Press Secretary Lizzy Guyton said the governor appreciates the Legislature’s work.
“Gov. Baker has acted to increase access to treatment and invest in prevention efforts, and believes this bill contains many important provisions, including prescription limits for highly addictive pain pills,” she said in a statement.
The bill included provisions from Baker’s proposal, including requiring doctors and other prescribers to check the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program each time they prescribe an opioid to make sure patients are not seeking multiple prescriptions from doctors.
Rosenberg called the bill one of the most aggressive legislative efforts to combat the opioid addiction crisis and predicted “you’re going to see this replicated across the country.”
The state Department of Public Health has said there were nearly 1,100 confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths in 2014, a 65-percent increase from the 668 confirmed cases in 2012.
Data for January 2015 through September 2015 also suggested a higher number of overdose deaths than during the same period in 2014.
The House is expected to debate the bill as soon as Wednesday.