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Baker to use HBO opioid documentary to lobby for legislation

Governor Charlie Baker.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker, alarmed by the state's rate of four opioid-related deaths per day, plans to use a new film about the epidemic's devastation on Cape Cod to lobby lawmakers mulling his bill aimed at mitigating the problem.

Baker, along with HBO and the filmmaker, will host legislators next Tuesday at a Boston hotel for a screening of the film, which tracks eight young Cape adults as they grapple with pills and heroin addiction, some of them to their deaths.

A former health insurance executive, Baker said the HBO film dramatically portrays "the incredible downward draw that comes with addiction, how powerful it is, and how hard it is to beat it."

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"I consider it to be probably the biggest public health problem we've got," Baker said.

Filed in October, Baker's bill would permit medical professionals to hold drug-using patients against their will for 72 hours of emergency treatment and limit first-time opioid prescriptions to a 72-hour supply. Baker and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh testified in favor of the bill in November, a rare step by two executives from different parties.

Some lawmakers have voiced concerns that the bill infringes on civil liberties. The bill is currently in committee.

Baker said he was aware of the privacy worries but had been stunned by the stories he had heard of the extent of the epidemic. The movie, "Heroin: Cape Cod, USA," conveys "a sense of why I feel, and I hope many others do, about how urgent it is to do some big things, some controversial things, and do them quickly," he said in a telephone interview.

Aides said Baker was considering opening the Revere Hotel screening to the public, hoping to raise awareness about the depth of the issue.

Baker, who devoted a large passage of his inaugural address to the subject of opioids, said the issue's scope was hammered home to him during his campaign last year. He and his wife, Lauren, would campaign during the day and then: "We'd come home and say 'What'd you hear today?,' and both of us heard many, many stories about this. And I've said before that I didn't get into the race to talk about this, but it was everywhere I went and it was everywhere she went."

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The governor said he wants lawmakers to prioritize his bill when they return in formal sessions next month.

"I would like to see this on the front end of the legislative agenda when they come back in formal sessions, because there's four people a day, OK?" he said.

The state Senate in October passed legislation requiring doctors to discuss the dangers of opioids with patients and allowing patients to voluntarily limit their access to full prescriptions.

Opioids have bloomed as a presidential campaign issue this year, with candidates in both parties calling it sufficiently widespread to warrant dramatic measures. Democrat Hillary Clinton held a forum in Dorchester in October on addiction, and Republican Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, has placed the issue high on his agenda.

The film, directed by Steven Okazaki, debuts on Dec. 28 on HBO.


Jim O'Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.