Everything You Need to Know About the New Massachusetts Opioid Law

The state is taking big steps to fight the opioid epidemic.
Heroin

Photo via AP/Mel Evans

A major bill addressing the state’s ongoing opioid crisis is set to become law on Monday when Gov. Charlie Baker signs it during a ceremony on Beacon Hill. The bill, approved unanimously by both chambers last week, is the product of over a year’s worth of intense focus by lawmakers on a public health menace that has spread through the city and region like a wildfire and ripped families apart.

Unintentional opioid overdose deaths have trended upward from 338 in 2000 to 1,173  in 2014. Today, it’s estimated that roughly four people die everyday from opioid overdoses. An in-depth review of the scourge found opioids disproportionately kill men under 45, relative to the rest of the state’s population. In many cases, their battle with opioids began when they suffered some kind of serious injury, were prescribed strong prescription-only pain killing medicine, and ultimately became addicted.

The bill will not end the opioid epidemic, but it does create some public tools to help make inroads in the fight against heroin and prescription drug addiction. The bill addresses all stages of the crisis: education, prevention, intervention, and recovery. 

Here’s what the Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment, Education and Prevention does:

  • It places limits on opiate prescriptions, a move that will cut off the flow of powerfully addictive drugs into medicine cabinets across Massachusetts. In many cases, individuals are often prescribed huge doses when a smaller number of pills will do, leaving patients with a bottle of powerful and addictive pills. Adults given opiates for the first time will be limited to seven-day prescriptions and all all opiate prescriptions for children will be limited to seven days. There will be exemptions for chronic pain sufferers.
  • All opiate prescriptions must now be checked in the state’s prescription monitoring program by the medical professionals issuing the prescription in addition to the pharmacists filling it at the drugstore.
  • Individuals in recovery or struggling with addiction can now voluntarily indicate in their public health records that they should not be prescribed opiates. Individuals who suffer from chronic pain and need opiates now have the option of receiving a “partial fill” of their prescription, an order that allows patients to receive a smaller dosage than the one recommended by their health care provider.
  • Public schools are now required to verbally screen students to determine who is suffering from substance abuse or considered at risk. The screenings, to be done at two different grade levels based on the school, will be done by a school nurse or health professional. Parents will be able to opt their children out of the screenings if they so choose.
  • Individuals admitted to an emergency room for an opioid overdose for 24 hours are now required to receive a substance abuse evaluation from a mental health professional before discharge. The emergency room patient in recovery is not required to follow the course of future treatment as prescribed by the mental health professional.
  • It creates a Good Samaritan-like law for individuals who administer Narcan in the aftermath of an overdose. This is separate from another bill currently making its way through the legislative process.
  • The bill improves the training guidelines for medical professionals capable of prescribe opioids and other controlled substances.
  • Opioid addiction education will be expanded into school athletic and driver’s education programs.
  • Patients in recovery are guaranteed to receive information on all FDA-approved recovery therapies upon being discharged from a treatment center.

The roots of the final bill can be traced directly to the state’s 2014 substance abuse law and Baker’s 2015 report on addiction.


Garrett Quinn
Garrett Quinn Garrett Quinn, Boston Magazine bmagdigital+gquinn@gmail.com