Gov. Baker On ‘Encouraging Signs’ And Challenges Confronting Opioid Crisis

BOSTON (CBS) – It’s been well over a year since Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a landmark law to fight the opioid epidemic here in Massachusetts. Since then he has also joined the President Donald Trump’s commission to tackle the crisis nationwide.

Related: Opioid Addiction Recovery Resources

WBZ-TV’s David Wade sat down with the governor to talk about what’s working, what we can do better, and how Massachusetts could set an example for other states when it comes to confronting the crisis.

David Wade: What is the priority, do you think, for our state?

Gov. Baker: I think the big thing is to stay on the stuff that’s we’ve done and recognize and appreciate that you don’t get into … you don’t get out of a problem like this in a year or two when it took 15 years to get into it.

And there are encouraging signs that we are heading in the right direction. Overdose deaths dropped by 5 % in the first half of 2017 compared to last year, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

wadebaker1 Gov. Baker On Encouraging Signs And Challenges Confronting Opioid Crisis

David Wade talks to Gov. Charlie Baker about the opioid crisis. (WBZ-TV)

Gov. Baker: Which is the first time we’ve gone down year over year in 15 years. But we still have miles and miles to go.

I also think this whole approach to getting a lot more aggressive about dealing with street drugs and especially with fentanyl and carfentanil and some of these really deadly compounds that have worked their way into the market — has to be a big part of our approach at this point going forward too.

Carfentanil, for example, is not illegal to sell in Massachusetts.

David Wade: Really?

Gov. Baker:Yes. Because the only things that are illegal are the things we actually pass laws that specifically identify, which is a mistake.

Which is why we filed legislation to have Massachusetts adopt the national drug register. So that as these compounds become known and available they automatically become illegal in Massachusetts.

David Wade: What do you think is working well so far?

Gov. Baker: Well, we’ve certainly seen a big reduction in prescribing of opioids and we’ve seen a ton of uptake in the use of the new, improved prescription monitoring program.

That uptick is because, under the new law, doctors are now required to check a patient’s drug history before prescribing opioids. Prescriptions have fallen by 28 percent since 2015.

You can watch the full interview with Gov. Baker here:

David Wade: You wanted the President to declare a national emergency, he did so in August. Obviously, it hasn’t been a lot of time but have you seen any change since that happened?

Gov. Baker: Our hope and expectation is when the final report comes out this fall he’ll use that national emergency as a device to drive some of the recommendations that don’t require legislation.

For example, why are we the only state in the country where you have to take a course in pain management and opioid therapy to graduate from medical school, dental school, pharmacy school, and nursing school? That’s the sort of thing the federal government can make a requirement for everybody.

David Wade: Do you think the President is sincere that this is a top priority for him?

Gov. Baker:Well, when he talked about putting this together in the first place he talked about his brother who had a terrible problem with alcohol.
I think this is something that is important to him and I do believe that the Commission’s recommendations will get the attention they deserve. And it is certainly my hope that they get implemented.

The national commission’s other recommendations include increases in the availability of treatment, medication to fight addiction, and access to narcan.

This is the third piece in a series of WBZ-TV reports on confronting the opioid crisis in Massachusetts.

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