Oxycontin pills.

Credit: AP Photo

Senate Set To Debate In-School Opiate Abuse Screenings

September 10, 2015

The state Senate is preparing to debate a collection of ways to fight the opiate epidemic in Massachusetts, including a proposal that local schools screen students for opiate abuse. The proposal from the Senate's Special Committee on Opiate Abuse would require local school or boards of health to screen students for opioid abuse in either eighth or ninth grade and again in grade eleven. Medical professionals would carry out the screenings and offer treatment options.

"What we're trying to do with this legislation and the recommendations that we have right now, is prevention and education," said Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, the chair of the committee.

The screenings would use the SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) system

at the school screenings. SBIRT uses a conversation with a subject to identify problematic use of medication, according to Flanagan.

"We want to make sure that we're adding screenings when possible like the SBIRT screenings that schools would conduct to really look at our youth and make sure that they're on a good track and they're not falling down the wrong path," Flanagan told WGBH News Thursday.

The committee also recommends expanding the state "Good Samaritan" law to cover civil liability for individuals who intervene with addicts using the anti-overdose drug Narcan. The proposal would also require more local police training in the Good Samaritan law to make sure police and private citizens know permissible ways to use Narcan.

Under the proposal, a list of lower-risk, non-opiate pain medicines would be published and made available around the state and the Board of Registration in Medicine would create a new certification dedicated to pain management for specialists.

How high-risk drugs are prescribed are a big part of the committee's report. One proposal would require doctors to make a clear case for why lower-risk pain treatment was not prescribed for a patient and that determination would be recorded. It would also allow patients to voluntarily receive less than the prescribed amount of addictive medication from pharmacists, regardless of the doctor's recommendation.

The committee also wants to alter the way medical records are kept, allowing patients to declare a preference for non-opiate pain treatment in their files. A patient would be able to remove the declaration from the their medical records voluntarily.

Flanagan expects the full Senate will take up a bill containing the recommendations for debate in the next three to four weeks.

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