This week, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed new legislation that he calls “the most comprehensive measure in the country to combat opioid addiction.”
But will it help?
Under the new law, initial opioid prescriptions will be limited to a one-week supply, and physicians will be required to check a prescription-monitoring database before issuing new scripts for certain medications.
While presumably the product of best intentions, such regulations are criticized by some experts for contributing to scaremongering around opioids, while failing to prevent problematic opioid use—heroin is always available on the black market, they point out—as well as potentially denying pain medication to those who need it.
Advocates for people with chronic pain say that deterring doctors from prescribing pain meds will only exacerbate suffering. Although chronic pain cases will not be limited by the seven-day supply rule under the Massachusetts law, advocates say officials still need to offer new mechanisms and alternatives if traditional analgesics are to be restricted.
The new legislation will also require emergency room workers to screen people who come in with overdose symptoms for substance use issues. And it goes further, requiring schools to conduct “verbal screenings” with students as well. It’s unclear who would conduct the school screenings, which is perhaps why students can opt out if they chose.
Gov. Baker may tout the legislation as “comprehensive” because of the various areas it addresses. But without increased pain management alternatives and significant harm reduction plans, that’s highly debatable.