Opiate Abuse Stirs Gov. Patrick To Declare Public Health Emergency

Declaring a public health emergency, Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday outlined steps to address an opioid addiction epidemic, including an immediate ban on one drug and the commitment of $20 million to increase drug treatment and recovery services.

“We have an epidemic of opiate abuse in Massachusetts, so we will treat it like the public health crisis it is,” Patrick said in a statement that followed testimony earlier in the week from Senate President Therese Murray who described a rise in reported overdose deaths as a “new normal” and recommended a series of public responses.

Patrick is directing state public health authorities to implement an immediate ban on the prescribing and dispensing of any hydrocodone-only formulation, commonly known as Zohydro, with the administration saying it poses “significant risk to individuals already addicted to opiates and to the public at large.” The ban would last until authorities determine measures are in pace to “safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose and misuse.”

Other directives include:

-- Permission for first responders to carry and administer Naloxone, known as Narcan, a so-called opioid antagonist that can prevent deaths in overdose cases. State officials also announced Narcan will be made available through prescriptions in pharmacies so it will be available to individuals who fear a loved one might overdose.

-- A Department of Public Health mandate that physicians and pharmacies use prescription monitoring to guard against abuse or misuse of prescriptions. The program has been voluntary.

-- Requiring an expanded Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention to make recommendations in 60 days on further actions that can be taken.

-- Issuance of a public health advisory to educate the public about opioid addiction treatment options.

“These actions will help slow the rise of this dangerous addiction,” Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett said in a statement. “Together, these steps will raise awareness in our communities, help save loved ones who tragically fall down from their disease and build important bridges to long-term recovery.”

Patrick’s directives were released with supportive statements from top House and Senate officials.

Murray has created a special committee to address the problem and this week testified that Plymouth Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Young, only a week after the department decided to begin equipping firefighters with Narcan, saved a 20-year-old man who had overdosed on opiates.

Saying the ages of those using opioids are getting “younger and younger,” Murray also applauded students at Plymouth North High School for producing a documentary on the dangers of addiction.



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