Opioid bill progress may trail Baker’s expectations amid crisis
By State House News Service | February 24, 2016, 19:34 EDT
BOSTON – While Gov. Charlie Baker this week repeatedly cited a daily death toll from the opioid epidemic, Speaker Robert DeLeo, the leader of the state House of Representatives, said he couldn’t ensure that a measure to help contain it would be completed any time soon.
The state Senate and House have both passed varying bills intended to reduce the abuse of prescription painkillers and a closed-door conference committee began negotiations on Jan. 20. Baker, who worked with other governors on the issue in Washington over the past weekend, has said he’s optimistic that a compromise could be reached within a couple of weeks, but DeLeo would not commit to that timeframe.
“That it would be done? I would hope so but I have not heard that from the conference committee folks in the House, except for the fact that they’ve had a couple of very good meetings,” DeLeo said Wednesday.
While noting actions already taken to fund treatment and boost medical training for pain management, Baker in recent days has expressed a sense of urgency in dealing with the problem, including his desire to impose limits on initial prescriptions. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 78 Americans die each day from overdoses, according to the Associated Press.
“We have four people a day dying here in the commonwealth,” Baker said Wednesday. “We have legislation pending in a conference committee that everybody says they support, that everybody agrees would be a terrific set of tools to put in the toolbox to help us deal with this epidemic here in Massachusetts, and I would like to see some action on that, yes.”
“I would especially like to see it before – as I said, it gets lost in the sort of cacophony of the rest of the work that’s going to be going on up here between now and July,” the governor added.
Budget hearings are already underway ahead of action in the branches this spring, and the summer in an election year usually features a crush of bills ahead of the July 31 end of formal sessions.
Baker mentioned the need to address the scourge of opioid abuse in his 2015 inaugural address, and again in his State of the Commonwealth speech in January, when he said prescribers are too casual about the dangers of synthetic opiate drugs.
The Senate opted to allow pharmacists to fill less than the prescribed amount of the most dangerous painkillers at a patient’s request, and a House bill would limit a prescription for a first-time patient to a seven-day supply. Baker has proposed limiting initial prescriptions for painkillers to a three-day supply.
On Tuesday, Baker said he hoped a measure would be done “sometime soon,” a period of time he defined as “the next couple of weeks.”
“It’s my sense at this point that we’re likely to see something fairly shortly, and unless I get told otherwise I’m going to presume that’s going to be the case,” Baker said.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, both Massachusetts Democrats, introduced a bill in Congress on Wednesday that would allow for the partial filling of opioid prescriptions, a strategy being explored by state lawmakers to reduce the number addictive painkillers in circulation.
The legislation would let prescribing physicians or patients request a partial fill of an opioid prescription with remaining portions of the prescription available to patients at a later date.
Written by Andy Metzger