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Clark, DiDomenico support legislation to combat prescription drug abuse

BOSTON – With the abuse of prescription pain killers having reached epidemic levels in Massachusetts, the Senate unanimously passed legislation last week for strict oversight of the drugs. Both Senator Sal DiDomenico and Senator Katherine Clark voted in favor of the measure.

The bill will reduce the excess supply of pills and require physician registration in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” for highly addictive medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin.

“Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem in my district and throughout the Commonwealth,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico. “This legislation contains a number of measures that will help both law enforcement and medical professionals combat this deadly epidemic.  Simply put, this bill will help countless individuals and families who have had to live through the negative impacts of prescription drug abuse.”

“The widespread use of these highly additive prescription drugs is destroying lives and devastating families throughout our communities,” said Senator Clark. “I am proud that the Senate has taken these important steps as we work to target this epidemic in the Commonwealth.”

A report released by the OxyContin and Heroin Commission in 2009 found that Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of opiate abuse in the nation, causing 3,265 deaths from 2002 to 2007 and 23,369 hospitalizations in 2006 alone.

According to Centers for Disease Control, more people are overdosing on prescription pain killers (approximately 12,000 nationally in 2007) than on cocaine and heroin combined, with the number of people needing emergency treatment for overdoses having tripled in the last decade. Of the nearly 2 million emergency room visits nationally in 2009, almost half involved prescription drug abuse.

The bill increases prescription drug security by making enrollment in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program mandatory. The top 30 percent of prescribers, who provide 90 percent of all controlled substances, are required to enroll immediately. All others would be phased-in over three years. Currently, participation in the program is voluntary, with only 1,700 out of 40,000 prescribers signed up.

Pharmacies, drug manufacturers and other relevant parties will also be required to alert local police when reporting missing controlled substances to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Under the bill, doctors and hospitals will be required to notify a parent or guardian of any minor treated for drug overdose. Information on substance abuse treatment options must also be provided, and a social worker will be available for counseling prior to hospital discharge.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further action.

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