OPINION | Barry Richard: Baker Overreaches with Opioid Proposal
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is overreaching with his latest proposal for dealing with the state's opioid crisis.
With the number of opioid related deaths on the decline in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker has unveiled his CARE Act designed to drive a stake through the heart of the problem once and for all. Baker's plan, among other things, asks the federal government to give states the flexibility to sell NARCAN over the counter and increase access to the OD-reversing treatment.
Baker is also asking state lawmakers once again to allow hospital emergency room doctors to involuntarily hold a patient showing signs of substance abuse disorder for up to 72 hours. The proposal would allow clinicians to transfer such patients to a treatment facility where they could petition the courts to hold the person, against their will, for an even longer period of time.
The legislature balked at Baker's involuntary treatment overreach two years ago. Lawmakers said there simply were just not enough available beds to accommodate the need. Others argued that a 72 hour period is not enough time to properly detox and treat an addict. Still, others made the case that involuntary treatment just might violate a patient's constitutional rights.
The State House News Service reports the Governor's plan would invest up to $30 million dollars annually from the state's federal Medicaid waiver to expand residential recovery services, increase access to medication-assisted treatment, add recovery coaches, and implement a consistent clinical assessment tool through the treatment system.
The Administration should be lauded for its efforts in the opioid battle. For the second consecutive quarter, opioid-related deaths have declined. Overall, opioid-related deaths declined by ten percent to 1,470 during the first nine months of 2017 from 1,637 during the same period a year ago. Under legislation proposed by Baker in 2016, Massachusetts put a limit of seven days on initial opioid prescriptions, increased penalties for fentanyl trafficking and revamped the state's prescription monitoring program.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders tells the State House News Service there has been a 29 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions in two years and 1,100 treatment beds have been added. She says another 2,168 beds have also been added at 162 new sober homes.
Opioid addiction is a crisis that impact everyone in Massachusetts. Whether it's a relative who deals with addiction or the driver who overdoses while operating a vehicle near your child's schoolyard, we all face the threat.
The Baker Administration has dealt head on with the problem so far and solutions here have been emulated by other states. That said, there are laws that protect individual freedoms. As well intended as the governor's proposal is, I am not sure I can support holding citizens against their will who chose not to seek treatment. At the very least, family members should be part of any decision to an restrict an individual's freedom.
Editor's Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Acknowledgements to The State House News Service