BOSTON — As the number of opiate-related deaths across the state continues to climb, Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency yesterday that gives the Department of Public Health emergency powers to combat the epidemic.
The declaration enables DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett to universally permit first responders to carry and administer Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, that when administered can reverse an overdose and save someone’s life.
Families with loved ones who are addicts will also be able to access Narcan more easily with prescriptions, so they have the drug in their homes in the event of an overdose, state health officials said.
In the past few months, at least 140 people have died in Massachusetts from drug overdoses, a number Patrick called unprecedented.
“We have right now an opiate epidemic, so I will treat this like the public health crisis that it is,” Patrick said during a press conference at the Department of Public Health office yesterday afternoon.
Patrick said he met Wednesday with families with someone in recovery and those who have lost someone to addiction. He described them as sharing powerful stories of love and loss.
Appearing with the governor, Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey said the courts are full of people with drug addictions.
“In terms of the courts, we can’t do it alone,” she said. “We are now seeing increased volumes of individuals who are coming into our courts really at a level that is unprecedented.”
She described courtrooms as being turned into emergency rooms and court officers acting like triage doctors.
The number of parents who come to court to have their drug-addicted children civilly committed “because they are at their wit’s end and they don’t know what to do,” is rapidly on the rise, Carey said.
Under the declaration, issued under a general law governing the “maintenance of public health,” DPH will immediately prohibit prescribing and dispensing any hydrocodone-only formulation, commonly known as Zohydro, until it is determined measures are in place to safeguard against overdose, misuse and diversion. Other states are contemplating similar moves, according to Bartlett.