Massachusetts Passes Nation's 'Most Comprehensive' Law to Combat Drug Addiction

by | March 15, 2016

By Marie Szaniszlo

Beginning in July, Massachusetts hospitals will have to evaluate for substance abuse anyone who arrives at an emergency room suffering from an apparent opioid overdose.

The mandate is part of a bipartisan bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law yesterday in response to a drug crisis that claims nearly four lives each day in the state.

"May today's bill passage signal to you that the commonwealth is listening, and we will keep fighting for all of you," Baker said at a State House ceremony attended by families who have lost loved ones to addiction.

The law is "the most comprehensive measure in the country to combat opioid addiction," the governor said, and the first to limit an initial opioid prescription for adults -- and every opioid prescription for minors -- to a seven-day supply.

To prevent addicts from going from one doctor to the next in search of OxyContin, Vicodin and other opioid drugs, the law also requires doctors to check a prescription-monitoring program before prescribing them. And no one will be able to able to graduate from medical or dental school without passing a course in pain management.

"This problem used to be seen as a crime," state Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said. "It's now understood to be a disease" of self-medication "from pain and hopelessness."

Like many parents, Janis McGrory of Harwich never imagined that her child -- who graduated 10th in her high school class with plans to attend college, where she had a full scholarship -- would ever become a drug addict. But within two years of taking her first pill, she said, her daughter Liz found herself in a cycle of addiction, arrest, jail, detox and relapse, until she died five years ago of a heroin overdose at 23.

"I tried everything I could to help my daughter," McGrory said. "I stand here representing the thousands of grieving mothers who have lost children to this disease. ... It breaks my heart."

In 2014, there were 1,099 confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts, up 21 percent over the 911 overdose cases in 2013, according to the state Department of Public Health,

"To those who have lost loved ones, to those who have loved ones who are hurting, who are struggling, who are in pain, I recognize -- we all recognize -- that this legislation will not bring your loved ones back," Attorney General Maura Healey said. "But I want you to know and I hope that you find some measure and comfort knowing that today there is legislation that is going to change the course for other families."

(c)2016 the Boston Herald