Baker offers ideas to tackle opioid addiction

  • “The traffickers are hiding behind people who are dealing with substance use disorder,” Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday. shns photo

State House News Service
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Less than two years after signing an opioid abuse prevention bill, Gov Charlie Baker returned Tuesday with a multi-pronged proposal to further ramp up the fight against opioid addiction, including legislation that revives the concept of holding addicts involuntarily for treatment for up to 72 hours.

Baker is aiming through a combination of new state laws, federal requests and executive actions to create new pathways for addicts to access treatment, to educate young people on the risks of opioids and to more directly align the health care system with the needs of those struggling with addiction.

At a press conference, Baker said the biggest mistake the state could make would be to get “distracted” and not continue to find ways to help individuals and families experiencing “hell on earth” as they grapple with addiction.

New data released this week by public health officials showed that for the second straight quarter opioid-related deaths had declined from last year, but opioid incidents remain prevalent as the state has worked to make the overdose-reversing drug Narcan more available to first responders.

“We said when we got into this that the first goal was to break the back of the trend, break the back of the trend of prescribing, break the back of the trend on overdoses and break the back of the trend on deaths. I would say that we’re starting to make progress on that. But let’s face it, no one here, and I certainly don’t think anybody in Massachusetts, is going to view this as mission accomplished,” Baker said.

The Baker administration, in letters to go out this week to the acting secretary of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Attorney General, plans to ask the federal government to allow states the flexibility to make overdose-reversing naloxone available over the counter and increase access to medication-assisted treatment.

Legislation the governor will file, called the CARE Act, also aims to increase access to treatment services by ensuring treatment beds meet current needs and by expanding access to treatment through hospital emergency departments.

The bill will expand the types of clinicians able to perform addiction evaluations in emergency rooms and require hospitals, many of which are already doing it, to engage patients with voluntary treatment options.

More controversially, Baker has revived the idea of involuntarily holding patients presenting with signs of substance abuse disorder for up to 72 hours. The new proposal has been modified from the one the Legislature rejected in 2016, and Baker balked at the comparison saying, “No, it’s not. No, it’s not.”

Instead of allowing doctors to involuntarily hold patients in the emergency room who are deemed a danger to themselves or others, the bill would allow clinicians to transfer a patient involuntarily to a treatment facility where they could be held for up to 72 hours.

The governor is also proposing to then make it possible for medical professionals to petition the court to hold a patient for longer than three days. “If you have this opportunity to engage somebody, you should take advantage of it,” Baker said.

One of the reasons the Legislature did not adopt Baker’s proposal two years ago is because hospitals expressed concern that they did not have the capacity in emergency departments to handle the new patients.