Patrick declares public health emergency over opioid epidemic

Police say pure heroin being distributed in Camden is to blame for 15 overdoses in a 24-hour period.  Credit: Getty Images
Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday declared a public health emergency because of an opioid epidemic.
Credit: Getty Images

In response to the growing opioid addiction epidemic, Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday declared a public health emergency and detailed actions to be taken to fight overdoses and deaths.

“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. “I have directed [the Department of Public Health] to take certain immediate actions and to give me further actionable recommendations within 60 days, to address this challenge and better protect the health of people suffering from addiction and the families and loved ones who suffer with them.”

The emergency declaration gives emergency powers to the state DPH commissioner. Among the actions to be taken are: universally permit first responders to carry and administer Narcan; immediately prohibit the prescribing and dispensing of any hydrocodone-only formulation until adequate measures are in place to safeguard against potential overdose and misuse; and mandate the use of prescription monitoring by physicians and pharmacies, which was previously voluntary.

Also, $20 million will be dedicated to increase treatment and recovery services to the general public, Department of Corrections and sheriffs’ offices.

Last month, Revere’s health officials issued an advisory after a spike in opioid overdoses. Between the start of the year and the end of February, there were 44 calls for help for opioid-related overdoses in Revere.

Also last month, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said that he wants all of the Hub’s first responders to begin carrying Narcan, the overdose reversal drug. Between 2010 and 2012, unintentional drug overdoses increased by 39 percent in Boston, according to the mayor’s office. There was also a 76 percent increase in the rate of heroin overdoses during the same time period.

State police data shows that 185 people have died from suspected heroin overdoses since November, according to the Globe. That statistic does not include data from Boston, Worcester or Springfield.

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.



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