Despite ongoing efforts to combat opioid abuse, Massachusetts continues to face an epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives. In 2016 alone, the state’s Department of Public Health confirmed 2,094 cases of overdose deaths, a 24 percent increase over the previous year.
From January to September of 2017, DPH documented another 932 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths. Although the numbers are trending downward, there are still far too many people dealing with drug dependency issues, and far too many lives being lost to this scourge.
Governor Charles Baker’s proposal to allow individuals to be involuntarily placed in a drug treatment program for up to 72 hours will help save lives. It will also address the all-too-familiar vicious cycle that occurs when a patient reports to the emergency room suffering from an overdose and is treated and released, only to end up back in the ER after another overdose.
Under previous legislation we adopted in 2016, ER patients treated for an opioid-related overdose, or given the overdose-reversing drug naloxone prior to arriving at the hospital must undergo a substance abuse evaluation within 24 hours. Patients are advised of their treatment options, but are not legally required to enter treatment. Individuals can be involuntarily committed to receive treatment for their addiction only with a court order.
During debate over the 2016 legislation, I offered an amendment to allow attending physicians to restrain a patient and place them in a treatment facility for three days if the patient had already received a substance abuse evaluation and returned to the hospital within seven days with another opiate-related overdose.
Governor Baker’s proposal would allow medical professionals and police officers to authorize the transfer of a patient to a substance use treatment facility without a court order if the patient presents a danger to themselves or others, and for the patient to be held in that facility up to 72 hours if deemed necessary by a physician. A court order would be required to hold patients beyond the 72 hours.
Governor Baker’s 72-hour proposal is intended as a “last resort” option, but will literally save lives, getting people into treatment and hopefully placing them on a path to recovery by reducing their chances of suffering a potentially fatal relapse. It deserves serious consideration as one tool towards addressing this epidemic.