It’s an issue that hits close to home for Senator Anthony Petruccelli. With a cousin who had battled prescription drug addiction, Petruccelli is now advocating for stricter laws regarding dangerous prescription drugs and more funding for drug abuse education.
“My cousin was recently at East Boston Central Catholic to talk to seventh and eighth graders about the dangers of prescription drug abuse,” said Petruccelli. “Since getting sober he’s been on a mission to educate people on how individuals like him get hooked on these pills.”
With the abuse of prescription pain killers, a problem known for some time in East Boston, is now reaching epidemic levels in Massachusetts. Petruccelli and the Senate on Thursday unanimously passed legislation for strict oversight of the drugs.
The bill will reduce the excess supply of pills and require physician registration in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” for highly addictive medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin.
Also included in the bill was an amendment offered by Petruccelli calling for a pilot program in five school districts that have surrounding communities with high rates of opiate drug abuse. The amendment calls for evidence-based curricula to decrease experimentation and provide skills for using prescription drugs appropriately.
“The issue of addiction is one that touches all of our lives,” said Petruccelli. “Addiction doesn’t care who you are, how educated you are, how much money you have or where you live; it is a problem in every community across Massachusetts, and I am hopeful that this legislation is another step in the right direction in the battle against addiction.”
On his education amendment, Petruccelli said if the state is going to be successful in this battle against addiction, then it must get to people before they are addicted. “Prevention is the key and we must do a better job educating our kids about the horrible circumstances surrounding substance abuse,” said Petruccelli. “What we have been doing is throwing money at rehabilitation costs, health care costs and incarceration while ignoring meaningful education. My cousin is out there on his own trying to educate kids on the dangers of prescription drug abuse and I’ve seen firsthand how powerful and impressive a story like his is and how it makes a lasting impression on the kids he engages.”
A report released by the OxyContin and Heroin Commission in 2009 found that Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of opiate abuse in the nation, causing 3,265 deaths from 2002 to 2007 and 23,369 hospitalizations in 2006 alone.
The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that Vicodin is the second-most abused drug by high school seniors, behind marijuana, and opiate addiction is the leading cause of property crime. Meanwhile, taxpayers are spending hundreds-of-millions of dollars annually in costs associated with the epidemic – including hospital visits, court appearances, jail time and social services.
The bill increases prescription drug security by making enrollment in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program mandatory. The top 30 percent of prescribers, who provide 90 percent of all controlled substances, are required to enroll immediately. All others would be phased-in over three years. Currently, participation in the program is voluntary, with only 1,700 out of 40,000 prescribers signed up.
To promote awareness, the Department of Public Health will be required to produce informational pamphlets explaining addiction risks, signs of dependency, where to go for treatment, and ways to safely store and discard drugs. The pamphlets will be distributed by pharmacies with each prescription filled.
Pharmacies, drug manufacturers and other relevant parties will also be required to alert local police when reporting missing controlled substances to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Under the bill, doctors and hospitals will be required to notify a parent or guardian of any minor treated for drug overdose. Information on substance abuse treatment options must also be provided, and a social worker will be available for counseling prior to hospital discharge.
The legislation also requires all prescriptions for controlled substances to be written on “secure” forms, using special watermarks, serial numbers or micro-printing to be determined by the Department of Public Health. The bill also forms a working group of practitioners to draft “best practices” for prescriptions that treat acute and chronic pain.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further action.