Massachusetts Governor Wants To Mandate Treatment For Certain Addicts

By McCarton Ackerman 10/22/15

Gov. Charlie Baker has made substance abuse a top priority. But has he gone too far?

Governor Charlie Baker
Wiki Commons

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has sparked strong opinions on both sides with a new bill that proposes allowing doctors to both limit their supply of opioid painkillers and hold patients for involuntary treatment.

In an attempt to address the state’s growing prescription drug problem, Baker’s bill would allow hospitals to hold substance abusers for 72 hours if they posed a danger to themselves or others. Patients would also be limited to a 72-hour supply of opioid painkillers when receiving a first-time prescription or visiting a new doctor. The only exception would be patients with emergency medical conditions or those in hospice care. Doctors would also be required to check the state’s prescription monitoring program before prescribing an opioid.

“I’ve never seen anything with the kind of negative momentum that this particular issue has,” said Baker at a news conference last week. “When you think about the fact that we’ve tripled the number of people in the past four years who’ve died of an opioid overdose – in the short term, the goal here has to be to disrupt the trend."

Although opioid overdose deaths have risen sharply in Massachusetts, climbing to 1,256 last year, some state officials believe that the involuntary holding of a patient could be a violation of civil liberties and ultimately discourage them from getting treatment. Massachusetts Medical Society President Dr. Dennis Demitri also stated that limiting prescriptions could "impede effective pain management” and "undermine clinical judgment that may be necessary in emergency situations.”

However, other portions of Baker’s proposal were met with unanimous approval, including education components for doctors, student athletes, and parents. His plan to prevent women with substance abuse issues from being placed at the MCI Framingham prison, instead being directed to a hospital setting, was also met largely with approval.

Since taking office in January, Baker’s administration has made substance abuse treatment a top priority and allocated $114 million to the cause. Among his accomplishments is adding 165 treatment beds since June and launching a bulk Narcan purchasing program.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.