Rep. Lyons Pushes effort to allow 72-hour Medical Hold for Treating Overdose Victims

BOSTON – State Representative Jim Lyons (R-Andover) today offered an amendment to allow doctors and care givers the power to involuntarily hold overdose victims at a hospital or drug treatment facility for an initial three day period to receive emergency treatment.

The amendment, put forth by Rep. Lyons and  Rep. Shaunna L. O’Connell (R-Taunton), was offered during the debate on a comprehensive substance abuse bill designed to address the state’s growing opioid crisis.  Despite unanimous support from the House Republican Caucus, the amendment was defeated on a partisan roll call vote of 34-113.

The amendment would empower licensed physicians and other qualified medical personnel to restrain a patient and arrange for their referral to a treatment facility if they believe that failure to treat the patient would create a likelihood of serious harm.  It also would allow the superintendent of the treatment facility to file for a commitment order through the courts after the initial holding period.

Massachusetts law currently permits the emergency restraint and hospitalization of individuals who pose a risk of serious harm by reason of mental illness, but not for those suffering from substance abuse.  The proposed amendment would have extended the same emergency treatment measures to substance abusers, mirroring language that was included in an opioid abuse bill filed by Governor Charlie Baker last fall.

Representative Lyons said authorizing a three-day commitment procedure for overdose victims is critical to ensuring that they receive proper treatment to help them overcome their addiction.  Having such an option available, he noted, would help to break the vicious cycle that results in many overdose victims returning to the same emergency room multiple times.

“When Governor Baker first filed his comprehensive plan, one of the key tenants of the proposal was the need to disrupt the cycle of addiction that was driving the overdoses across our state. The 72 hour hold would have done much to disrupt that cycle,” commented Lyons. “While I’m disappointed that the House wasn’t able to reach a consensus on this idea, I will continue to work with both sides of the aisle on possible solutions to ending this terrible epidemic in the Commonwealth.”

An average of four people die from an opioid overdose every single day in Massachusetts.  According to the Department of Public Health, 263 of the state’s 351 cities and towns – 3 out of every 4 communities – experienced at least one opioid-related overdose death between 2012 and 2014.

In 2014 alone, 1,089 people died from opioid use in Massachusetts, representing a 20% increase over the previous calendar year and a 63% increase over 2012.  Based on data available as of October 15, 2015, DPH estimates that the total number of confirmed opioid overdose deaths in 2014 could rise as high as 1,256 once all cases are finalized.