Opioids and Public Safety
In response to the opioid epidemic, we’ve worked hard over the last two sessions to prevent addiction and expand access to treatment. We’ve paid less attention to what comes after treatment, when patients in recovery set out to build stable, sober lives. Employment is often a significant part of the recovery process, but it can be difficult for former addicts to find job training and other vocational services. This legislation increases access to vocational services for individuals in recovery in three ways. One, it creates a competitive grant program to support partnerships between substance use disorder treatment providers and vocational services providers. Two, it creates a program—modeled on the Secure Jobs Initiative—that provides people in recovery who are at risk of homelessness with both housing stabilization and job training services. Finally, it ensures that people who are in recovery are eligible for the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program.
Last year we responded to the attorney general’s call to criminalize the trafficking of fentanyl after the deadly synthetic opioid began flooding communities. Now health workers and law enforcement are preparing for the arrival of carfentanil, an opioid 10,000 times stronger than morphine. Carfentanil was responsible for 175 overdoses in six days in a single county last August, and it can take six or more doses of Narcan to save someone who has overdosed on it. This legislation attempts to proactively combat the distribution of carfentanil in Massachusetts by adding it to the controlled substances list and creating penalties for any person caught trafficking it.
Despite the addiction risk they pose, the frequency with which they are abused, and the number of fatal overdoses to which they contribute, a class of tranquilizer drugs called benzodiazepines have not been part of Massachusetts’ statewide conversation about substance abuse prevention and treatment. This legislation calls for the Department of Public Health to promulgate regulations establishing a safe tapering protocol for benzodiazepines, requires pharmacists to add a warning to benzodiazepine prescriptions informing patients of the risks associated with long-term use, requires the distribution of pamphlets with information about the use of benzodiazepines and the discontinuation thereof, and requires written consent from patients before they can be prescribed a benzodiazepine.
In recent years there have been high-profile incidents involving a Massachusetts doctor who fraudulently claimed a medical purpose for engaging in sexual contact with his patients. Much to their frustration, district attorneys have not been able to prosecute these cases. Due to a gap in state law, they lack the legal tools necessary to build a strong case and secure a conviction. This legislation, supported by District Attorney Marian Ryan, seeks to close that gap by updating the sexual assault statutes to explicitly criminalize the fraudulent representation of the necessity and propriety of conduct, which otherwise amounts to sexual assault, in the course of treatment or diagnosis. The bill also adds these crimes to the law governing the statute of limitations for rape and indecent assault and battery.
Currently in cases of incest where the victim is under the age of 16, the statute of limitations begins when the victim turns 16. This legislation would change that so the statute of limitations begins when the victim turns 18.
This legislation provides immunity from prosecution for individuals under age 21 who seek medical assistance for an alcohol-related overdose, if the evidence for the charge of purchase or possession of alcohol was gained as a result of the seeking of medical assistance.
This legislation increases the penalties for the possession of an assault weapon, covert weapon, machine gun or sawed-off shotgun, and an unlicensed firearm in the home. Additionally, it adds the possession of an unlicensed firearm in the home, a large capacity weapon, assault weapon, or a covert weapon to the Armed Career Criminal statute, meaning that whoever is previously convicted of a violent crime or of a serious drug offense and then carries a dangerous weapon, as described above, will automatically receive an increased punishment.
This legislation creates a criminal penalty for discharging a firearm with the intent to strike a dwelling, and as a result striking a dwelling.