The Massachusetts legislature passed a landmark opioid bill that includes help for people with pain. The bill passed at a quarter to midnight on July 31, 15 minutes before the end of the 2017-2018 formal session; the Governor signed the bill into law the following week. U.S. Pain’s National Director of Policy and Advocacy Cindy Steinberg, who also serves as Policy Council Chair of the Massachusetts Pain Initiative, worked closely behind the scenes to ensure the legislation would do as much to improve pain management as it would to ameliorate the opioid crisis.

“We are incredibly encouraged at the outcome in Massachusetts,” says Steinberg. “This bill is truly the first of its kind. We hope other states will take notice and realize it is possible to enact balanced reform that doesn’t help one patient population at the expense of another.”

The passage of the bill is thanks, in part, to the many people with pain who rallied around the cause and shared their stories with legislators about their struggles to access medication legitimately as a result of the state’s efforts to crack down on opioid prescribing.

“Lawmakers, particularly the senate chair of the Mental Health and Substance Use Committee, listened carefully to the people living with chronic pain. who spoke at a January hearing on the bill,” said Steinberg. “The senate chair and her staff sat down with us and held many calls with us and were extremely responsive to our legislative proposals, putting many of our recommendations into the bill. We are very grateful to them.”

From a pain management perspective, here are some highlights of the new law:

  • Remote pain management specialist consultation available for primary care physicians at no charge, to encourage them to treat people with chronic pain
  • Mandated public and private insurance coverage for complementary pain treatments
  • Partial fills of Schedule II opioid medications, with no additional co-pay if patient wants the remainder
  • Electronic prescribing of controlled substances obviating the need for a paper script
  • Pain management nurse added to the Board of Nursing
  • Warrant required for law enforcement to access prescription monitoring program data

Notably removed from the bill was a commission proposed by the Governor to recommend disciplinary action for physicians for “overprescribing” opioids, as well as ceiling doses on the prescribing of opioids.  Pain advocates argued strongly against this measure, pointing out that prescribing in the state is down more than 30 percent; and and citing evidence from a Boston Globe nationwide survey, which found that more than a third of doctors feel that opioid restrictions have “hurt” their chronic pain patients.

“There were certainly many twists and turns along the way with some provisions being added and others removed at different points, but we stayed with it working with lawmakers all along the way,” said Steinberg. “I am extremely proud of the final bill,”

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