In March, Governor Charlie Baker took a monumental step in an effort to curb the opioid epidemic. He signed a bill that restricts the prescription of opioids, enhances education and increases screenings. The legislation, entitled “An act relative to substance use, treatment, education and prevention,” was a bipartisan effort.
“This law is essential to our ability to care for patients. Previous efforts are no longer sufficient,” said Deborah Mulloy, PhD, RN, associate chief nurse for nursing quality and the Center for Nursing Excellence.
The impact of opioid addiction is evident in Massachusetts and across the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 18,000 deaths nationally related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2014. This rate of opioid deaths is the highest to date, and preliminary estimates from 2015 show that the problem continues to grow.
With the new law, Massachusetts has taken a leading role in combating the opioid epidemic, enacting changes to prescribing practices and clinical guidelines. The legislation is the first in the nation to limit first-time opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply for adults and place a seven-day limit on prescriptions for minors. It also requires prescribing clinicians to check the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) database before prescribing narcotics. Beginning this month, hospitals must administer a substance abuse evaluation to any emergency room patient displaying symptoms of an opioid overdose.
The legislation also empowers patients to take action and increases prevention efforts. Now, patients with a prescription for opioids can voluntarily reduce the amount of medication they receive by partially filling the prescription. In schools, information on opiates must be shared annually with high school athletes and regular substance use screenings are now mandatory. In hospitals and clinics, prescribing clinicians must participate in continuing education, including training on effective pain control and the risk of opioid addiction.
“As a hospital community, we can reduce opioid use by changing our prescription and education practices,” said Mulloy. “We are also looking at the use of alternative approaches to managing acute and chronic pain through caring and healing modalities.”