Local lawmakers back bill aimed at opioid crisis

Local lawmakers say they support a House bill aimed at addressing the state’s opioid crisis, although it lacks a few provisions they were hoping for.

A vote on the legislation is expected as soon as Wednesday.

The representatives said addiction to opioids and the overdoses that come with it are one of the biggest problems they face. Police, doctors and families of addicts are constantly asking them for action, they said Tuesday.

“We’re in a crisis. We’re in an epidemic,” state Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said. The state says 2,016 people died of overdoses last year in Massachusetts, a 6 percent decrease from the year before.

Dooley said he backs the bill because it has a lot of good ideas, although it lacks some he wanted.

One provision, which he previously proposed as a separate bill, would allow patients to take only a portion of their prescription for painkillers from a pharmacy “to see how it goes,” he said.

If the patient needs the rest of the prescription, they could go back and get it without making another co-payment.

The idea is encourage patients to bring home fewer drugs to avoid having excess pills lying around the house that could be misused, he said. Dooley said he is disappointed the bill does not include a proposal he, Gov. Charlie Baker and others made to give doctors the authority to order a patient who has overdosed to be held for three days without court approval. It was in the original version of the bill but House Speaker Robert DeLeo reportedly disapproved of it.

Dooley said it is a commonsense idea that he believes would help doctors. “It’s another tool in their tool box,” he said.

He said he would offer an amendment to put it back in the bill. Robin Hamlin of Plainville, who heads a local support group for the families of addicts called Unconditional Love, said she is glad the state is addressing the problem because previous attempts have not gone far enough.

“A lot more is needed,” she said.

Hamlin, whose son died of an overdose, said one of the most glaring problems is a shortage of beds in treatment centers.

“There are not enough places to go around,” she said.

She said an addict in crisis cannot be expected to wait for openings. Dooley, however, said it appears funding for additional beds is not in the bill. State Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said more treatment beds is probably the most common suggestion he hears from police, doctors and families.

The bill will also call for keeping prescriptions records electronically so addicts cannot go “doctor shopping” and keep getting more bills, he said. Hawkins said addressing opioid problems is one of the largest issues facing the state and a top priority for him.

He has been meeting with police and other officials on the issue and attended a forum sponsored by state Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, on the matter. Elected in a special election in April, Hawkins said he will give his “maiden speech” in the House Wednesday and it will be on the opioid crisis.

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