By Alison Page
On February 24th, 2016 Bill HD4554 – An Act relative to benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics was filed by Representative Paul McMurtry in the Massachusetts State House. The bill received 47 co-sponsors during the seven-day open period in which legislators can co-sponsor. This is an impressive and promising turnout.
The bill was assigned bill number H4062 and has been referred to the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Because the bill was unseasonably filed, it does not have to be heard by the Joint Committee before this legislative session ends, but there is still a chance it could be heard before the July 2016 deadline. The committee will hear testimonies from experts in the field about why this bill is so important to public health and safety. At that point, the committee will decide whether the bill should pass, “go to study”, or be denied. If the bill “goes to study”, meaning that it will require more research before a decision is made, then the bill will be effectively “dead in the water” until next year.
The likely and hoped for outcome is that the Joint Committee will pass the bill, at which point it will go before the House and the Senate for debate until it ends up on the floor of the House and Senate for a final vote.
What are the Specifics of Bill H4062?
- Anyone receiving a benzodiazepine prescription will receive written informed consent from their doctor stating the risks of taking this class of drugs. The consent form will ensure that patient’s understand that benzodiazepines and sleep aids can lead to physical dependence, and in some cases, addiction. The consent form will also specify that long-term use is contraindicated.
- Benzodiazepine prescriptions will be written on brightly colored paper to ensure that patients know that they are receiving a potentially harmful substance that could lead to physiological dependence or addiction.
- No patient will be taken off benzodiazepines or sleep aids without their full consent. No patient will be “cold turkeyed” off their prescription. For patient’s choosing to come off, a safe taper schedule will be implemented.
- Drug labels will indicate that long-term use is contraindicated.
What Can You do to Help?
1. If you would like to help this bill pass and gain momentum, please reach out to Massachusetts state senators and representatives by phone and e-mail. Tell them how benzodiazepines have harmed you or a loved one, and why passing this bill is important to public health and safety.
2. E-mail your personal story of benzodiazepine harm to Attorney Garrett Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your personal story will be presented as evidence to the Joint Committee as they decide whether or not the bill moves forward. The sooner you can send your personal story the better, since it is unclear when the committee will meet. You do not need to live in Massachusetts to send in your story. You can send your story from anywhere in the U.S. and internationally, there are no restrictions.
Please include the following information in your e-mail:
- Full Name
- Town and State (if you live within the U.S.)
- Country (if you live outside of the U.S.)
- Use “Bill H4062” as the subject line
- If you are writing from outside of Massachusetts, include how this bill will affect your state/country. For example, if this bill passes in Massachusetts, you are hoping a similar bill will pass in your own state/country.
This email should be addressed to: Dear Chairs and Members of the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse OR Representative McMurtry
Thank you for your support!
*first published on Mad in America