The Boston City Council voted unanimously last week to pass a resolution to support a state bill advocating for stricter laws regarding dangerous prescription drugs and an amendment by Senator Anthony Petruccelli for more funding to increase drug abuse education.
The resolution was offered by City Councilor At-Large Felix G. Arroyo and District 3 City Councilor Frank Baker and supported by City Councilor Sal LaMattina.
“Drug abuse does not stop with use of illegal drugs, abuse of prescription drugs is a very real problem,” said Arroyo. “With this legislation, a doctor will be able to catch if someone just had a prescription filled by another doctor and also be able to refer that person to the help they need.”
With the abuse of prescription pain killers, a problem known for some time in East Boston, is now reaching epidemic levels in Boston and Massachusetts. Petruccelli and the Senate recently 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.
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.
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.
Arroyo and Baker pointed out that the percentage of non-heroin opioids calls to the Massachusetts Substance Information and Education Helpline by Boston residents increased 75% from 2001 to 2010 and treatment admissions rate increased 62% from 2001 to 2010 for Boston residents.
“Requiring physicians to utilize a database that will provide them access into a patients’ drug history will help to significantly decrease the number of abusers who can obtain painkillers and, more importantly, afford healthcare providers with a tool to track individuals who may potentially be at risk and offer substance abuse assistance to those in need,” said Baker.
Also included in the bill supported by the City Council 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.”
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.
The bill is now in the House of Representatives awaiting further action.
“I applaud my colleagues for taking action on this important legislation and I urge the House to do the same and pass this bill,” said LaMattina. “In some way or another addiction affects so many families in my district and this legislation is one step in preventing these prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands while educating the public on the dangers of prescription drug abuse.”