On March 27th, Governor Patrick declared the ongoing opiate epidemic a public health emergency. Overdoses from heroin have skyrocketed in Massachusetts since 2000, with 185 people dying between November 2013 and February 2014.
Governor Patrick gave several emergency orders to address the growing abuse of opiates. First and foremost, the Governor ordered the Department of Public Health (DPH) to make Narcan available immediately to all first-responders and more accessible to families and friends of drug users. Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, is an easy-to-use drug that is administered nasally and instantly halts overdoses. Its use was previously prohibited outside of state-run pilot programs (in which 20,000+ first responders were trained to administer Narcan) but will now be available to all first-responders and for sale to the public at pharmacies.
Governor Patrick also announced a ban on the sale of Zohydro, a potentially lethal narcotic painkiller that can easily be abused, however this mandate has since been overturned in court. The state is currently looking into placing restrictions on prescribing the painkiller. The Governor also mandated that all physicians and pharmacies monitor prescriptions of narcotic painkillers and other drugs commonly abused. Before this, drug monitoring was voluntary.
In addition, the Governor announced an added $20 million in funding to increase treatment and recovery services for the general public, state prisons, and county jails. The recently-release House Ways and Means budget proposal included this increased funding.
Funding for programming and operations of the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services has been increased by $5.5 million to allow for expanded services for Section 35 clients, including a central intake system, the placement of addiction specialists in specific courts to assist in treatment placements, and funding to expand detoxification services and clinical stabilization services. The budget also included a new line item that would fund the Governor-ordered naloxone (Narcan) distribution programs. If included in the final budget, this funding would go into effect on July 1st.