State Senate OKs bill aimed at opiate abuse

By Corey KanePatriot Ledger

BOSTON — The state Senate has approved a bill that would require doctors to register with the state before being permitted to prescribe opiate painkillers.

The bill was proposed by Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, to address opiate abuse in Massachusetts.

“We all know that opiates are the leading cause of accidental death in Massachusetts, surpassing motor vehicle deaths,” Keenan told colleagues Thursday before they voted unanimously to approve the legislation.

A 2010 law created the state monitoring program, but participation was voluntary and only about 1,700 of 40,000 doctors are registered, Keenan said.

Keenan, whose district includes Abington and Rockland, proposed the law in response to the rising abuse of prescription painkillers including OxyContin and Percocet. Police and drug treatment professionals say prescription-drug misuse has led to an epidemic of heroin abuse in eastern Massachusetts.

People become addicted to prescription opiates, and when they can no longer afford that habit, they switch to heroin, which is much cheaper, treatment professionals say.

Under the bill, Keenan said, patients receiving prescriptions for opiate painkillers would be monitored by the state and their doctors to prevent “doctor shopping” – a tactic used by drug abusers to get prescriptions from various doctors.

The state would keep electronic records of patients receiving prescriptions, to see if they had other painkillers prescribed.
Patients would also receive pamphlets on the dangers of painkillers.

Republican senators tried unsuccessfully to add an amendment to make a registry for drug offenders similar to the one kept for sex offenders.

Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, said the amendment would help communities protect themselves.

Keenan, a freshman senator, was commended by his colleagues for crafting the legislation.

Minority leader Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, praised Keenan. Sen. John Hart, D-Boston, who said his district in South Boston suffers the worst opiate abuse in the state, joined the praise.

“Twelve people in Massachusetts died each week in 2008 from opiate abuse,” Hart said, quoting a Department of Public Health study.
The bill now moves to the House, where co-author Rep. Elizabeth Malia, D-Jamaica Plain, will present it.

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