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Legislative leaders voice hesitation on Baker’s opioid plan

Legislative leaders voiced hesitation Monday about a key provision of Governor Charlie Baker’s plan to combat the state’s opioid epidemic.

Baker wants to give hospitals new authority to hold substance abusers against their will for three days while deciding whether to pursue legal permission for significantly longer commitments.

But Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, speaking to reporters at the State House after his weekly meeting with the governor and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, said, “That’s one that I give a big yellow light.”

Rosenberg said “you have to find the right balance point” between saving lives and protecting civil liberties.

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DeLeo said “further discussion is going to be necessary” to ensure there is enough judicial oversight.

Baker’s proposal mirrors existing law on so-called “civil commitments” for the mentally ill. It is part of a broader legislative package designed to tackle the state’s opioid scourge, which left more than 1,200 dead from overdoses last year.

Another controversial proposal would put curbs on how many opioid painkillers physicians can prescribe.

Doctors, under the governor’s plan, could only prescribe 72-hour supplies the first time they saw patients.

After Baker released his proposal last week, leaders of the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Dental Society criticized the prescription limits, saying they amounted to improper interference with clinical judgment.

DeLeo said Monday he is worried about an adverse impact on patients with chronic pain. But he said he understands there might a “carve out” in the law that would address his concerns.

A Baker spokesman said the administration anticipates the regulations implementing the law would include exemptions for those facing chronic pain and patients in palliative, cancer, and hospice care.


David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.