Recognizing that the opioid epidemic that raged before the COVID-19 pandemic has only become a more difficult problem, lawmakers at the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Addiction and Recovery met on Monday to consider bills to make harm reduction tools and drug treatment accessible to more people.
Public health officials and advocates have repeatedly expressed concerns about the risks of drug overdose during the pandemic, highlighting challenges such as social isolation, negative effects on economic and mental health of the crisis in course and the possibility that some people may avoid treatment for fear of contracting COVID-19[FEMININE[FEMININE
âI think it’s important for everyone to understand that we continue to face an opioid epidemic that rages amid the larger COVID-19 pandemic,â said Representative Adrian Madaro, President of Committee House, at the start of the hearing on Monday. . âIn fact, last year in 2020 there were more overdoses and overdose deaths than we have seen in the past few years, which only underscores the fact that we need to continue to make this work and it’s not time to slow down in trying to fix this problem.
The Department of Public Health reported 2,104 confirmed and estimated opioid-related deaths in 2020, up from 2,002 recorded in 2019 and a tick above the previous record of 2,102 deaths in 2016. Fentanyl was present in 92% of opioid-related deaths for which a toxicology report was available in 2020, according to the DPH, and heroin was detected in 14%.
In August, Acting DPH Commissioner Margret Cooke told the Public Health Council that preliminary data showed 1,038 people had died from an opioid overdose in the first six months of this year. , i.e. an estimated decrease of 5% compared to the same period in 2020.
The American Civil Liberties Union was among those who testified Monday in support of the legislation (H 2067 / S 1296) filed by Representative Ruth Balser and Senator John Keenan that would expand the Drug Assisted Treatment (MAT) pilot program which supplements counseling with medication for the treatment of opioid dependence for those incarcerated in some county correctional facilities.
Explaining the bill, Keenan said that what was known as MAT when the legislature created the pilot program in a 2018 law is now known as the drug for use disorders. opioids (MOUD). The bill would require that MOUD be made available to every person incarcerated in state or country facilities in Massachusetts.
“The program has been incredibly successful in helping people stay in treatment and stay alive, so several other facilities have started providing MOUD as well,” said ACLU staff lawyer Jessie Rossman. . “This legislation aims to build on this success and ensure that every person with opioid use disorder receives consistent care, regardless of where they are incarcerated, regardless of their treatment history. and without limitation on the type of medically prescribed treatment she may receive. to receive.”
The ACLU said peer-reviewed studies have shown that the risk of unnatural death – a category that includes drug overdoses, suicide and other preventable causes – was 87% lower for people incarcerated on MOUD versus incarcerated individuals with non-MOUD opioid use disorder.
And while the MOUD pilot program provides treatment to inmates who had started treatment prior to entering prison and to those preparing for release, the Keenan / Balser Bill would require that every inmate be assessed for a related disorder. opioid use within 24 hours of incarceration and initiate treatment within 24 hours of assessment when clinically required.
Elizabeth Matos, executive director of the Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, told the committee that the legislation “is extremely important” for Massachusetts to truly address its issues of opioid addiction and abuse.
âIf this is not passed, you will continue to see unnecessary damage resulting from the opioid epidemic,â she said. âIt can’t be considered a separate population, it’s a public health crisis. If we cannot get the treatment of people with opioid use disorders in prison under control, it will be very difficult to have an impact on this problem as a whole.
Representative Jon Santiago, who dispensed drugs for opioid use disorders as an emergency physician, presented his bill to the committee (H 2128) that would direct state agencies to develop educational material for health care providers that encourages adoption of the three FDA approved. drugs for the treatment of substance use disorders – methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. He would also establish a peer mentoring program in hopes of making providers feel more comfortable offering all three drugs.
âIt is well documented here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that there is a dearth of providers trained to provide the three drugs approved by the FDA for substance use disordersâ¦ and I have no doubts that patients seeking a treatment should not only have access to this, at their choice, but that geography should not be constraints. There are large areas in the Commonwealth, as you certainly know, especially among communities of color that are underserved by MOUD providers, âSantiago said. He added, “And as someone who has had their medical school and residency, there just isn’t enough focus or training for providers when it comes to use-related disorders. substances and MOUD. “
Monday’s Joint Committee on Mental Health, Addiction and Recovery hearing also drew testimony on a number of bills that have bounced off Beacon Hill in recent years without becoming law, such as Representative William’s proposal. “Smitty” Pignatelli (H 2125) to demand that all first responders carry naloxone – often referred to by the brand name Narcan – so they can try to reverse opioid overdoses they encounter at work.
While many Massachusetts police and fire departments already have Narcan available to responders, not all have it on hand. Pignatelli told the story of a Berkshire man who overdosed. He said a police officer arrived at the scene but did not transport Narcan and that the man died while the overdose reversal medication was on its way.
âIt’s 2021 and there really is no excuse for our first responders not to carry this drug on their person or in their vehicle. It’s a very simple thing, I actually have a kit here. It’s tiny. As a tiny little little one who can just fit in a pocket or an investor belt or whatever, a tiny little thing can save the life of someone who overdoses, âGary Pratt, Chief Rural Recovery Project Manager and Smash The Stigma 413 Founder, mentioned. He added: “I think the time has come where if there are agencies that don’t feel the need to transport this, I think it is time for the legislature to do so so there is a need to transport this drug. . There is no reason not to wear it anymore.
The committee also heard testimony from Representative Peter Capano of Lynn on a bill (H 2069) that would require “a clear and concise warning that opioids or dispensed opiates can cause dependence, dependence and overdose” at print on any containers or wrappers containing opioids, Capano said. He said Arizona, Hawaii and Utah have already passed similar laws and US Senator Ed Markey has proposed a similar federal policy.
âAlthough there has been an increase in public awareness of the addictive qualities of prescription opioids over the past decade, between eight and 12% of patients prescribed an opioid for chronic pain still develop an opioid use disorder, and up to 29% of chronic pain patients abuse prescription opioids, âCapano said. âIt is crucial that we continue to educate more patients about the risks of dependence and addiction when taking legally prescribed opioids. “
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