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Opioid Bill Unanimously Approved By House

A bill to fight the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts is advancing on Beacon Hill after getting unanimous approval from House lawmakers yesterday.

The measure increases access to the overdose reversal drug Narcan, and starts a pilot program to offer more addiction treatment to prisoners with substance use disorders.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo says it's the third bill passed by the house in the last four years to help those dealing with addiction.

During debate Wednesday, the House turned aside several attempts to authorize medical professionals to hold a patient for up to three days for substance use treatment and one of the bill's chief supporters explained why the language was removed from earlier versions of the bill.

The bill that emerged Tuesday from the House Ways and Means Committee did not include the involuntary hold language proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker, though the measure was included in an earlier version of the bill supported by the Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones proposed adding the language to the bill via a floor amendment, but Rep. Denise Garlick offered a further amendment, instead proposing a commission to study the idea of a 72-hour hold.

Garlick, who chairs the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, said the 72-hour hold language was removed by the Ways and Means Committee because "we received better information" after the bill was released by her committee.

"I am grateful, leader Jones, that you asked me to explain this. I am grateful you have allowed me the opportunity to say that at every point in time I presented to you the best product we knew how to deliver," Garlick said. "I give you my word that the further amendment is not a mechanism to defuse the discussion on this topic and this issue. This further amendment says we want a commission, a real commission with a real charge, and it sunsets July 19, 2019."

Garlick's amendment was adopted and the House then ruled two other amendments seeking to reinsert the 72-hour hold provision out of order, including one filed by Rep. James Lyons who railed against the Garlick amendment on the floor.

"I want people to remember in the year 2000 there were 379 opiate-related deaths. In 2010, there were 560. That's a 47 percent increase over 10 years. Since 2010, we're up 400 percent. What are we waiting for? What are we waiting for? We need an urgency in this chamber that is going to help solve this problem," he said. "I urge every member of this Legislature to vote down the commission because we don't need a commission."

Garlick's amendment was adopted by a 110-36 roll call vote that mostly hewed to party lines.

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