BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker wants states to have the flexibility to make the overdose-reversing drug naloxone available over the counter to help stem the nation’s opioid overdose epidemic.
The Republican governor plans to deliver letters on Wednesday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Eric Hargan, acting secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, requesting the change.
Baker, a member of Republican President Donald Trump’s special commission on opioid abuse, said Massachusetts already has expanded access to the drug, but he wants the federal government to make that access even broader.
Baker also wants the federal government to approve rapid urine tests for the presence of the opioid fentanyl for use by doctors and permit office-based opioid treatment with methadone.
Baker announced his intention to send the letters as he unveiled a new bill Tuesday that he says would expand the state’s ongoing battle against an opioid crisis that has claimed thousands of lives in Massachusetts.
The governor said the legislation aims to increase access to treatment and recovery services and strengthen education and prevention efforts.
“While we have seen progress and gained valuable insight into combatting the disease, this legislation takes stronger, more targeted steps to intervene earlier in a person’s life,” said Baker.
Among other steps, the bill would create a commission to recommend standards for the credentialing of recovery coaches.
Baker said requiring that recovery coaches — who help those struggling with addiction — be credentialed by the state would help make sure they are qualified and could make it easier for their services to be covered by insurers.
Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the bill also seeks to make it easier for those with substance use disorder to connect with the right person to help treat their specific needs.
The bill tries to build on the existing state requirement that patients who arrive in hospital emergency departments after an overdose be offered a substance abuse evaluation and connected to treatment within 24 hours.
The administration said data collected since the requirement took effect in 2016 suggests that 50 percent to 90 percent of the patients declined the evaluation and left the hospital without an assessment.
The bill would require hospitals to take more aggressive steps to persuade patients to seek additional help while also recording overdose incidents and results of a substance use evaluation in a patient’s electronic records.
Baker’s action comes as Massachusetts is beginning to see a decline in opioid-related overdose deaths.
On Monday the Department of Public Health released a report that found that the 1,470 estimated and confirmed overdose deaths recorded in the first nine months of 2017 represented a decline of about 10 percent compared to the 1,637 deaths in the first nine months of 2016.
It’s the second quarterly report estimating a decline.