Included in legislation to be introduced before the Massachusetts House of Representatives to address the Commonwealth’s opioid epidemic are two proposals from State Representative Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), including limiting the prescription of opioids to children and expanding substance abuse education in Massachusetts public schools.
The legislation, which is expected to be considered by the House in January, would for the first time limit patients prescribed opioids to a seven-day supply and persons admitted to the emergency room due to an apparent drug overdose would be required to undergo a substance abuse evaluation within 24 hours.
Under the bill, children are only allowed a seven-day opioid prescription, whether for the first time or not, unless there are extreme circumstances such as cancer or terminal illness.
The inclusion of this measure comes on the heels of legislation filed by DiZoglio, House Bill 3811, to regulate the prescription of the opioid OxyContin to children. DiZoglio’s bill came in response to the FDA’s recent approval of the powerful painkiller, known in recent years for its frequent abuse, for children as young as 11.
“The legislation I filed earlier this year would have prohibited the prescribing of OxyContin to children,” said DiZoglio. “Unfortunately, such a ban would not pass through federal regulations. As a state, we are only able to do so much, as former Governor Deval Patrick found in his ordering of a ban on the opioid Zohydro in 2014, which was overturned by the U.S. District Court. I would like to see much stronger regulations but this marks a step in the right direction. Right now, there are no limitations in Massachusetts on prescription opioids. While we had to make some concessions through the committee process, the House legislation does expand limitations beyond OxyContin to all opioids and I am very pleased with that. I am committed to working with the Committee to make further improvements throughout the process.”
Since the filing of the DiZoglio bill, a bipartisan group of federal legislators, including U.S. Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Kelly Ayotte, (R-NH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), as well as Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-MA) and Seth Moulton (D-MA), have called on the FDA to reconsider their decision to allow the prescribing of such a powerful opioid to children.
A study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that in 2014, nearly 1 in 30 high school seniors had abused OxyContin and 1 in 20 had abused Vicodin. In 2009, the Massachusetts OxyContin and Heroin Commission found that in 2007 alone there were 4,544 substance abuse treatment admissions in Massachusetts for persons age 15 to 19. The commission noted the second most-common source for obtaining prescription opioids was through a physician.
“Each day, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2,500 youth in the United States abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time,” said DiZoglio. “The number of opioids prescribed to adolescents and young adults nearly doubled between 1994 and 2007 and this continues to be a serious problem. We have a duty to our children to regulate the distribution of such powerful drugs.”
In January, DiZoglio also filed legislation, House Bill 344, designed to expand and strengthen substance abuse education in Massachusetts public schools. In the Commonwealth, there has been a 90 percent increase in opiate overdoses from 2000 to 2012, with one in five high school students having reported being offered, sold or provided illegal drugs at school. This legislation to expand substance abuse education to all students was also included as part of the House proposal.