Metro

Walsh backs Baker opioid bill

In a strong bipartisan boost for Republican Governor Charlie Baker, Democratic Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston is backing Baker’s bill to address the state’s deadly spate of opioid overdoses.

In a letter to members of the Legislature, Walsh and Baker asked them to “swiftly act” on the package, which has drawn criticism for its provisions that would grant hospitals new power to force treatment for up to 72 hours on substance abusers who pose a danger to themselves or others and would put more restrictions on first-time opioid prescriptions.

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“I am supporting it, and I hope for its passage,” Walsh, a former Dorchester state representative, said in a telephone interview. “I will ask all my former colleagues to support it.”

The letter, signed by both leaders, explains the rationale for the controversial provisions.

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“Given the highly addictive nature of opioids, we strongly encourage you to support limiting first-time opioid prescriptions to a 72-hour supply,” they write. “The legislation provides an important safeguard against potential overuse or misuse of these drugs while allowing doctors to exercise their discretion to exceed this limit in cases of emergency ...”

Organizations representing Massachusetts dentists and doctors have offered direct and pointed criticism of the provision, saying that practitioners know their patients’ needs better than the state.

The Baker/Walsh letter, dated Oct. 27, also says that the proposed 72-hour hold for substance abusers is a last resort, would allow doctors to intervene with those at the highest risk, and would parallel current law that allows a 72-hour period of involuntary treatment when a physician determines a person suffers from mental illness and poses a serious risk of harm.

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In the interview, Walsh said he still had some questions about the specifics of that proposed change, “but I like the idea, I like the concept.”

Democratic legislative leaders have voiced hesitation about the provision.

Baker and Walsh, despite belonging to different parties, have publicly forged a close working relationship.

Walsh is running for a second term as mayor in 2017. Baker, a Republican in a state that is not, is expected to run for reelection as governor in 2018.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.
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