The following is an announcement from the office of State Senator Katherine Clark:
With the abuse of prescription pain killers having reached epidemic levels in Massachusetts, the Senate on Thursday unanimously passed legislation for strict oversight of the drugs, Senator Katherine Clark announced. The bill will reduce the excess supply of pills and require physician registration in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” for highly addictive medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin.
“The widespread use of these highly additive prescription drugs is destroying lives and devastating families throughout our communities,” said Senator Clark. “I am proud that the Senate has taken these important steps as we work to target this epidemic in the Commonwealth.”
“When drugs like these are responsible for more accidental deaths in Massachusetts than motor vehicle accidents, you know we’ve got a problem,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “I said at the beginning of this legislative session this would be a top priority. The abuse of these drugs has devastating effects on individuals and families of every socio-economic background. The costs are high, both to families and the economy, not to mention the significant impact on public safety. This bill will help save lives and keep us all safer.”
A report released by the OxyContin and Heroin Commission in 2009 found that Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of opiate abuse in the nation, causing 3,265 deaths from 2002 to 2007 and 23,369 hospitalizations in 2006 alone.
The bill increases prescription drug security by making enrollment in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program mandatory. The top 30 percent of prescribers, who provide 90 percent of all controlled substances, are required to enroll immediately. All others would be phased-in over three years. Currently, participation in the program is voluntary, with only 1,700 out of 40,000 prescribers signed up.
To promote awareness, the Department of Public Health will be required to produce informational pamphlets explaining addiction risks, signs of dependency, where to go for treatment, and ways to safely store and discard drugs. The pamphlets will be distributed by pharmacies with each prescription filled.
Pharmacies, drug manufacturers and other relevant parties will also be required to alert local police when reporting missing controlled substances to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Under the bill, doctors and hospitals will be required to notify a parent or guardian of any minor treated for drug overdose. Information on substance abuse treatment options must also be provided, and a social worker will be available for counseling prior to hospital discharge.
According to Centers for Disease Control, more people are overdosing on prescription pain killers (approximately 12,000 nationally in 2007) than on cocaine and heroin combined, with the number of people needing emergency treatment for overdoses having tripled in the last decade. Of the nearly 2 million emergency room visits nationally in 2009, almost half involved prescription drug abuse.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further action.