House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, flanked by several dozen lawmakers and health care industry representatives, said at a news conference Monday that legislation designed to tackle the state's opioid epidemic may be among "the most significant bills that . . . my colleagues and I, here today, will work on in all of our tenure here at the State House."
The measure, expected to pass the House Wednesday, would limit initial opioid prescriptions to seven days and require hospital patients who appear to be suffering from an opioid overdose to receive a substance abuse evaluation within 24 hours of admission.
The bill stops short of a proposal by Governor Charlie Baker that would give hospitals new authority to hold substance abusers against their will for 72 hours.
Before a standing-room-only crowd, DeLeo praised Baker's focus on addiction. But he said he has civil liberties concerns about the 72-hour hold proposal and fears that hospitals, already treating large numbers of addicted and mentally ill people, do not have enough capacity for three-day commitments.
He also argued that voluntary treatment is more effective than involuntary treatment.
Baker, a Republican, and DeLeo, a Democrat, have been closely aligned on key issues, such as holding the line on taxes and reforming the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The speaker's rejection of the 72-hour hold represents one of their most significant breaks.
But DeLeo emphasized Monday that the House, Senate, and governor are all committed to passing a significant piece of opioid legislation in the coming months.
The Senate has already passed a bill that would, among other things, require public schools to screen students for drug use. The House measure does not include that requirement.
If the House approves its version of the opioid legislation this week, the two chambers would have to negotiate a compromise before sending it to Baker for his signature.