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.

  • A Ved

    I don’t see anything in there about expansion of treatment programs/options. Is that not an issue in Mass. like it is in NY State?

  • Tom

    Just another case of political grandstanding.

    All it’s going to do is make it more difficult for people who suffer from chronic pain getting their meds. It’s not going to do a darn thing to stop drug dealing on the streets.

    • Jason

      You are 100% right. It’s unfortunate that many children at the high school at age level have died because of this. What will be will be. I think the doctors are to blame for giving out Mass amounts of pills. Then cutting everybody off the pills and everybody sits back and enjoys the profits of Suboxone. While the elderly and people in severe pain will be looked at like a junkie from the street or a pill Seeker. Why does my grandparents pills that they have been taking for many many years have to be lowered and subject them to more pain than they already were in to begin with. Just to appease and and make parents of dead children feel better. My grandparents never picked up a needle and have never tried heroin. For them to be affected by the streets and other people’s decision is just not fair. I have friends in severe pain that are handicapped. They are now being treated like criminals or drug addicts. They have been on the same dose for many years. The doctors have offered to move the medication up time and time again. But my friend does not want to increase his dose of medication because he’s already feeling bad about himself because he’s on such a high dose to begin with. Now Governor weld wants to make some parents happy when it’s already too late because they have lost their children. It sounds like Roger Goodell is in charge of the opiate crisis in Massachusetts. It just doesn’t make sense anyway you look at it. They should at least make sense when prescribing. One day they want to give you a higher dose and the next day after the signing of this bill. They want to cut your dose in half. When your medical condition has not changed one bit it actually has only progressed and gotten worse. Most people on these medications there illness does not ever get better once the damage is done it usually can only stay the same or slow the progression. So I don’t understand how a problem caused from the streets can affect so many normal law-abiding citizens and elderly patients. As bad as I feel for the parents who have lost children. It’s too late to try to make them happy. The damage has been done.