Opiate bill is good ‘first step’ says Velis

BOSTON – The House passed a bill Wednesday regarding opiates and heroin that state Rep. John Velis (D-Westfield) said “is a step in the right direction.”
The House passed another version of the bill in January, and the Senate passed its own version in 2015. The bill voted on yesterday was a compromise that came out of the Conference Committee.
Velis said one of the highlights of the bill, which he expects Gov. Charlie Baker to sign into law this week, is that it limits prescriptions for opiates.
“Doctors can only prescribe opiates for seven days for first-time prescriptions,” said Velis. “If they need more, they have to go back to the doctor.”
The bill also requires that any person who goes to a hospital with a drug overdose has a substance abuse evaluation.
“Now, when someone goes to the hospital for a drug overdose, once they’re cleared, they are free to leave,” said Velis.
The bill also shields anyone who administers Narcan to a person who has overdosed from liability.
“It’s about intervention, prevention and education,” said Velis. “The thing not included is treatment.”
Velis said there is no mention of treatment in the bill, something he said is seriously needed.
“We need to allocate more funds for treatment beds,” he said. “There are almost none in western Mass.”
There is also no language in the bill about sentencing for heroin traffickers.
“We need to send a message to the people disseminating this poison on the streets,” said Velis.
A separate bill is in the Judiciary Committee now that Velis said calls for repealing mandatory sentences for drug violations. Velis said the intent is to offer treatment, not jail, for addicts but said heroin traffickers should not be included.
“We have an epidemic. We have people dying and there’s a bill to repeal mandatory sentences?” said Velis. “I’m going to work to kill this in committee.”
Velis plans to file his own bill calling for stricter sentencing for heroin traffickers.
“It’s time we treat drug traffickers they way they need to be treated,” he said. “We need to protect our families.”
Velis said again that the bill was a step in the right direction and that a battle was won at the Statehouse Wednesday, “but we need to fight the war.”

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