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House opioid proposal differs from governor’s bill

An influential lawmaker unveiled a House bill Monday night aimed at combating the deadly scourge of opioid abuse.

Representative Elizabeth A. Malia, House chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, revealed legislation that would further restrict first-time opioid prescriptions, require schools to have a substance abuse policy that they post publicly, and mandate substance abuse evaluations for people in acute care hospitals suffering from apparent opioid overdoses.

A Malia aide said the chairwoman, a Democrat from Jamaica Plain, was unavailable to comment Monday.

In several areas, the House bill veers significantly from legislation proposed in the fall by Governor Charlie Baker.


Baker’s bill would limit dentists and doctors to prescribing no more than a 72-hour supply of opioids to patients the first time they prescribe that class of drug to them — a provision that brought swift pushback from such groups as the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Malia’s bill would create a seven-day supply limit for initial opioid prescriptions. It would also mandate that a practitioner not issue an opioid prescription with more than a seven-day supply to a minor at any time.

Both bills have exceptions for emergencies, but the Malia bill also has a notable exception for “chronic pain management.”

Whereas the governor’s legislation would grant hospitals new power to force treatment for up to 72 hours on substance abusers who pose a danger to themselves or others, the House bill doesn’t go as far. It would instead require that patients in an acute care hospital believed to be suffering from an opioid overdose receive a substance abuse evaluation within 24 hours of admission.

The bill also eschews a controversial measure in legislation passed by the state Senate that would require all public school districts to screen students for potential drug use.

The joint committee is currently polling its members. The bill is expected to go to other committees before reaching the floor of the chamber. A vote could happen early next year.


“With nearly four people dying each day in the Commonwealth, our administration is eager to work with the Legislature to bend the trend on opioid misuse,” Baker said in a written statement. “[W]e appreciate the leadership of House Speaker [Robert] DeLeo, Senate President [Stanley] Rosenberg and the committee to quickly produce legislation and we look forward to reviewing the bill.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.Click here to subscribe to his weekday e-mail update on politics.