Boston, MA – Governor Deval Patrick recently declared a public health emergency in Massachusetts in response to the growing opioid addiction epidemic. The Governor directed the Department of Public Health (DPH) to take several action steps that will combat overdoses, stop the epidemic from getting worse, help those already addicted to recover and map a long-term solution to ending widespread opiate abuse in the Commonwealth.
The use of oxycodone and other narcotic painkillers, often as a route to heroin addiction, has been on the rise for the last few years in Massachusetts. At least 140 people have died from suspected heroin overdoses in communities across the Commonwealth in the last several months, levels previously unseen. From 2000 to 2012, the number of unintentional opiate overdoses increased by 90 percent.
“We have an epidemic of opiate abuse in Massachusetts, so we will treat it like the public health crisis it is,” said Governor Patrick. “I have directed DPH to take certain immediate actions and to give me further actionable recommendations within 60 days, to address this challenge and better protect the health of people suffering from addiction and the families and loved ones who suffer with them.”
The Governor’s Public Health Emergency declaration provides emergency powers to DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, RN. At the Governor’s direction, Commissioner Bartlett will work with the Public Health Council to take the following actions:
- Universally permit first responders to carry and administer Naloxone (Narcan), a safe and effective opioid antagonist that, when timely administered, can reverse an overdose and save a life. Naloxone will also be made widely available through standing order prescription in pharmacies in order to provide greater access to family and friends who fear a loved one might overdose.
- Immediately prohibit the prescribing and dispensing of any hydrocodone-only formulation (commonly known as Zohydro) until determined that adequate measures are in place to safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose and misuse. The introduction of this new painkiller into the market poses a significant risk to individuals already addicted to opiates and to the public at large.
- DPH is mandating the use of prescription monitoring by physicians and pharmacies to better safeguard against abuse or misuse. This was previously a voluntary program.
- Re-task the Commonwealth’s Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention with added members from public health, provider organizations, law enforcement, municipalities and families impacted by the opiate epidemic, to make recommendations in 60 days on further actions that can be taken, including, but not limited to: how to better coordinate services, ensure a full range of treatment regardless of insurance, and how to divert non-violent criminal defendants struggling with addiction into treatment programs.
The Administration will also dedicate an additional $20 million to increase treatment and recovery services to the general public, to the Department of Corrections and to Sheriffs’ Departments.
In conjunction with this public health emergency declaration, Commissioner Bartlett has issued a public health advisory to help education and raise awareness about the treatment options currently available to combat and prevent the spread of opioid addiction.
“These actions will help slow the rise of this dangerous addiction;” said Commissioner Bartlett. “Together, these steps will raise awareness in our communities, help save loved ones who tragically fall down from their disease and build important bridges to long-term recovery.”
The Governor also announced that he will partner with other governors and federal stakeholders to develop a regional action plan to bring an end to the opioid epidemic. Earlier this week, the Governor sent letters to Senator Manchin, Congressman Lynch and Secretary Sebelius in support of efforts at the federal level to ban Zohydro Extended Release (ER).
Source: MA Governor’s Office