The long-discussed, wide-ranging opiate treatment bill passed the state legislature late Tuesday night just in the nick of time, after a conference committee on Tuesday agreed to a compromise form of the bill that went through many twists and turns over the past month.
State Rep. Dan Ryan, who is vice chair of the House’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Committee and had a big hand in the bill, said he was happy to see that the body came to agreement and voted unanimously on the final bill only hours after the compromise reached the floor.
He said that many hard issues were discussed – such as providing opiate treatment to inmates, creating Safe Injection Facilities, and looking at involuntary commitments for substance abuse treatment – but none of the sticking points caused the bill to derail in the last hours.
“A unanimous vote on such a major piece of legislation, such as the opioid bill, shows what we are able to do here in the Commonwealth,” he said. “Because we don’t retreat into our partisan safe zones, we are able deliver a bill that will go a long way in curbing this scourge that had affected so many communities… I have to thank Speaker DeLeo for appointing me vice-chair of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Committee. My knowledge of so much of the good work being done by others in Charlestown and Chelsea really helped me to shape discussion. I thank everyone in our communities that are doing recovery work.”
Rep. Ryan said he thanked Conference Committee Chair Rep. Denise Garlick and Sen. Cynthia Friedman for their quick analysis of a tough issue.
“After months of public testimony, stakeholder meetings and expert analysis they worked through the weekend processing all of that info and hammered out a bill we can all live with and will save lives,” he said. “Our neighborhoods, hospitals, schools and even correctional facilities will be safer places because of this bill.”
One of the sticking points in the bill was Safe Injection Facilities (SIFs), which allow people to use illegal injection drugs in a supervised medical environment. It is illegal in the United States and opposed by the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. While that measure had supporters in the Senate, it did not get support in the House. The compromise on that created a commission to study the concept with municipal leaders, including Mayor Martin Walsh – who opposes the idea outright.
A second measure allows a pilot program in county jails and state prisons to allow treatment medicines, such as Methadone, to be given to inmates. Currently, those in treatment when they enter jail are cut off from that treatment. The pilot, however, does not operate in Suffolk County. Only two state prisons are included – MCI-Cedar Junction and the Plymouth treatment facility for men.
Finally, Ryan said the House had been very much opposed to the idea of Section 35 involuntary treatment, but Gov. Charlie Baker was very supportive of the idea. The program is running in Boston on a pilot with the West Roxbury District Court, and it allows police and medical professionals to involuntarily hold certain individuals for the sake of treatment without the approval of family – which is usually required.
The matter was adopted for study by a commission.
Other highlights include:
- Requires electronic prescribing for all controlled substances, with limited exceptions, effective January 1, 2020.
- Expands access to naloxone (Narcan) in the community by (1) establishing a standing order, providing access to naloxone without a prescription, (2) allowing certain Sheriffs to purchase naloxone at a lower cost through the state’s bulk purchasing program, and (3) allowing local governments and agencies to exchange unexpired naloxone.
- Establishes a commission to make recommendations on the certification of Recovery Coaches.
- Mandates that providers check the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) prior to issuing any prescription for a benzodiazepine.
- Establishes a Center for Police Training in Crisis Intervention to support cost-effective, evidence-based mental health and substance use crisis response training programs for law enforcement, providing the tools to respond appropriately to behavioral health crises.