Massachusetts Introduces New Bills To Attack Opioid Crisis

By Zachary Siegel 06/09/15

A list of bills pending before Congress that address opiate abuse and overdose.

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With opioids like OxyContin and heroin being the single largest cause of overdose fatalities in the country, Massachusetts representatives are advancing new legislation to combat the growing public health crisis. Below is a look at a few bills currently awaiting passage in the legislature that address opioid use, abuse, and overdose in the commonwealth.

Protect Our Infants Act

This bill aims to assist federal and state efforts to better treat and diagnose Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), a condition that occurs in newborns when pregnant women take opiates. At birth, the baby is dependent on the drug and withdrawal symptoms (e.g., diarrhea, fever, tremors) occur shortly after.

Brought forward by U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass. and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the bill requires the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services to conduct research and coordinate efforts to help state agencies collect data on NAS. The aim is to ensure best practices for diagnosis and treatment of NAS.

The Opioid Overdose Reduction Act

With passage of this bill, doctors, first responders, and other individuals trained to administer naloxone, a lifesaving opiate overdose reversal drug, would be protected from civil liability. The Opioid Overdose Reduction Act is essentially a “Good Samaritan Law,” removing the threat of criminal or legal implications against the person who administers the drug to the individual who is overdosing.

“No one should be afraid to save a life because of a lawsuit," U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who introduced the bill along with colleagues, said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass co-sponsored the bill and said, "Drugs like naloxone provide the means to counteract the effects of opioid overdoses. This is a life-saving treatment, but many are deterred from providing these medications for fear of litigation.”

The Opioid Overdose Reduction Act was endorsed by several anti-drug, law enforcement, and health organizations, including the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery, Learn to Cope, Association of Behavioral Healthcare, Massachusetts Sheriff's Association, and the Massachusetts Association of Behavioral Health Systems.

National All-Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Reauthorization

A bipartisan group of senators and representatives introduced a bill that would reauthorize the National All-Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting (NASPER) program, which funds states to maintain, improve, and expand prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).
Massachusetts’ program started in 2005 and has not been reauthorized since 2010. It has now gone on for years without funding.

Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy, who co-sponsored the bill said this program “will empower states and advocates on the front lines of this crisis to build successful (prescription drug monitoring programs) that can communicate across state lines and help identify at-risk behavior—a key first step in fending off addiction before it starts."

FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act

This bill would make it significantly more difficult for the Food and Drug Administration to override an advisory committee of experts when it comes to approving opioid drugs.

The senators argue this bill is necessary because of previous problems with the FDA. For example, Zohydro (pure hydrocodone), was approved by the FDA in 2013, despite concerns about the safety of the drug.

The FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act essentially creates a buffer between consumers and potentially dangerous opioid medications.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.