The House of Representatives is moving closer to giving Gov. Baker a bill to fight the state's opiate epidemic. House Speaker Robert DeLeo is putting the House's own version of an opiate addiction prevention and education bill up for a vote Wednesday afternoon. The House bill differs from the proposal Gov. Charlie Baker put before lawmakers last year by limiting doctors to prescribing only a seven-day supply of addictive opiate medication to new patients. Baker's bill would have only allowed a three-day period for new opiate prescriptions.
"We are in the midst of a public health crisis. The opioid epidemic drains vitality from our cities and towns, extinguishes lives and steals souls. But by bringing the light of this legislation we can defeat the scourge," DeLeo said at a press conference laying out the provisions of the bill Monday.
The chamber, seemingly reinvigorated after its holiday break, is back to the work of lawmaking after getting off to a slow start to the first half of its two-year session in 2015.
Another provision of Baker's bill, which would allow doctors to hold a patient for involuntary opiate addiction treatment for 72 hours, was left out of the bill the House will vote on.
DeLeo does still foresee a large role for hospitals to play in giving care to opiate addicted patients
"Because we know that voluntary treatment is the most effective course of treatment, hospitals will conduct a medical evaluation when individuals present themselves with an overdose. Patients will then be given medical advice and treatment recommendations," DeLeo said.
The plan from DeLeo and his Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee chair Rep. Elizabeth Malia (D-Jamaica Plain) has attracted the support of the Massachusetts Medical Society, the influential lobby of health care providers that opposed Baker's harsher restrictions.
Malia told reporters and stakeholder at the press conference that the bill continues work done by the Legislature in a 2014 law addressing opiate treatment and that further work is incremental and pragmatic.
"We have to start with what we can work with and build for the future. Our goal with this legislation is to create a safety net, a new standard in acute care settings, a new best practice designed to ensure the proper assessment and discharge of patients who seek voluntary treatment," Malia said.
One area where Baker says he's not going to budge is on a provision supported by the MMS that would allow the limit on prescribing opiates to "sunset" after a trial period, allowing doctors to return to open-ended prescriptions of opiates for new patients. The lobby group that represents doctors in the state favors the sunset allowance, but it is not currently a part of the House bill. The MMS argues there is no evidence that limiting pain medication supplies to patients prevents addiction."I am opposed to the sunset provision, big time," Baker told WGBH News in an interview Tuesday with Boston Public Radio hosts Margery Eagan and Jim Braude.
The House's bill will have to pass through the Senate, which passed its own bill, featuring student screening for opiate addiction in public schools, last fall.
In the Democratic-controlled Massachusetts Legislature, where top leadership calls most of the shots, legislation rarely, if ever, comes to a full vote without assurances that it will pass with a wide margin of support. After both chambers approve the same version of the bill in a six-member conference committee, it'll be up to Baker to sign, veto or attempt to alter the legislation.
"The good news here is there seems to be a fair amount of agreement on a number of elements and I'm looking forward to being able to sign a comprehensive reform bill sometime soon after the Senate comes back into session," Baker said Monday.