Pa. House expands addiction measures

Lawmakers say they hope legislation will increase constituents’ treatment options

HARRISBURG — As the opioid and heroin crisis continues across the commonwealth, House Health Committee members on Wednesday unanimously passed a package of opioid measures they hope will expand constituents’ treatment options.

“I think we need to have as many options as possible to address this very, very troubling trend of increased opioid deaths every year. We’re about to hear it’s gotten even worse,­” said Rep. Matthew Baker, R-Bradford, majority chairman of the committee.

The first of the three bills, House Bill 118, introduced by Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, would allow health care facilities licensed by the state Department of Health to apply to convert medical beds to detoxification beds for patients seeking treatment for drug addiction.

Under current law, facilities, including hospitals, interested in converting their medical beds are subject to a second health and safety inspection by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. The bill would remove that provision.

Kaufer, in seeking support for his bill, reflected on an incident with a constituent who brought her son to his office on a Friday afternoon in search of treatment for his heroin addiction.

After many calls to government agencies, Kaufer and the mother were told a detox bed wouldn’t be available for the man until Monday, a distressing response for the mother.

Kaufer says his bill will address scenarios like that by increasing the number of detox beds available.

The committee also approved legislation, House Bill 713, to allow individuals to involuntarily commit a person who has overdosed to a drug treatment program for at least 72 hours.

Specifically, it would amend the Mental Health Procedures Act, which currently permits someone to commit a “severely mentally disabled” individual to medical treatment against his or her will, to include those who suffer from substance use disorder and, subsequently, overdosed. The person must pose a clear and present danger to him or herself or others.

The standard for clear and present danger, which usually relates to suicide attempts or self-mutilation, would change to include “ingesting an amount of drugs as to render himself unconscious or in need of medical treatment to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm.”

“Family members are really desperate for intervention to try to save their loved ones. And they see this as yet another tool to try to help their loved ones to not die,” said Baker, who sponsored the bill.

Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny, raised a concern about who would pay for the treatment if individuals don’t want to participate in a program. He mentioned drug treatment advocacy groups have brought similar concerns to him, and asked that the chairman consider those unfunded costs.

The last bill, House Bill 1043, would regulate pain management clinics by requiring them to register with the DOH and to fulfill the department’s standards to receive a license.

A violation of the licensure act would have administrative penalties, as well as criminal penalties for multiple offenses.

Baker hopes it will curb “pill mills” from running rampant in communities and adding to the heroin epidemic.