Patrick directed the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to take several steps to combat overdoses and stop the matter from getting worse, according to Thursday's announcement.
At least 140 people have died from suspected heroin overdoses in Massachusetts in the last several months, and from 2000 to 2012, the number of unintentional opiate overdoses increased by 90 percent, according to Patrick's office.
"We have an epidemic of opiate abuse in Massachusetts, so we will treat it like the public health crisis that it is," Patrick said. "I have directed the DPH to take certain immediate actions and to give me further actionable recommendations within 60 days, to address this challenge and better protect the health of people suffering from addiction and the families loved ones who suffer with them."
The governor's administration plans to dedicate $20 million to increase treatment and recovery services to the general public, to the Department of Corrections and to Sheriff's departments.
Additionally, at Patrick's discretion, DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, RN, plans to take the following actions:
- Universally permit first responders to carry and administer Narcan, an opioid antagonist that can reverse an overdose and save a life if administered in a timely manner. The treatment will be made widely available through standing order prescription in pharmacies to provide greater access to families and friends who fear a loved one might overdose.
- Immediately prohibit the prescribing and dispensing of any hydrocodone-only formulation, commonly known as Zohydro, until determined that adequate measures are in place to safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose and misuse. The introduction of the painkiller into the market poses a risk to individuals already addicted to opiates and to the public at large.
- The DPH is also mandating the use of prescription monitoring by physicians and pharmacies to better safeguard against abuse or misuse. Previously, this was part of a voluntary program.
- Re-task the state's Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and prevention with added members from public health, provider organizations, law enforcement, municipalities and families impacted by the opiate epidemic to make recommendations in 60 days on further actions that can be taken, including but not limited to how to better coordinate services, ensure a full range of treatment regardless of insurance, and how to divert non-violent criminal defendants struggling with addiction into treatment programs.