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March 28, 2014

State senate to meet about opiate epidemic

Overdoses push Patrick to declare public health crisis

(Continued)

The Senate committee is also looking at Section 35 commitments, which is involuntarily committing an individual for substance abuse after a finding in court of an addictive disorder where the person is likely to cause serious harm to him or herself.

In Patrick’s declaration, he directed state public health authorities to implement an immediate ban on the prescribing and dispensing of any hydrocodone-only formulation, commonly known as Zohydro, with the administration saying it poses “significant risk to individuals already addicted to opiates and to the public at large.” The ban would last until authorities determine measures are in pace to “safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose and misuse.”

“We have an epidemic of opiate abuse in Massachusetts, so we will treat it like the public health crisis it is,” Patrick said in a statement.

Other directives include:

— Permission for first responders to carry and administer naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, a so-called opioid antagonist that can prevent deaths in overdose cases. State officials also announced Narcan will be made available through prescriptions in pharmacies so it will be available to individuals who fear a loved one might overdose.

— A Department of Public Health mandate that physicians and pharmacies use prescription monitoring to guard against abuse or misuse of prescriptions. The program has been voluntary.

— Requiring an expanded Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention to make recommendations in 60 days on further actions that can be taken.

— Issuance of a public health advisory to educate the public about opioid addiction treatment options.

Methuen and Haverhill police tried recently to disrupt sales after a spike in overdoses in the area was blamed on a certain batch of heroin believed to be mixed with fentanyl, another opiate painkiller.

Police also have stepped up investigations targeting drug sales around the highways, where people from New Hampshire or Maine drive to Methuen and Haverhill to buy heroin from dealers usually living in Lawrence.

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report

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