New England leaders seek solutions to opioid abuse epidemic
BOSTON >> Political leaders from across New England met with business leaders Monday to discuss ways to combat New England's deadly opioid addiction problem, including tightening regulations around prescription painkillers.
Also Monday, Massachusetts' top medical schools said they've reached an agreement with the state to better teach their students how to recognize, prevent and manage prescription opioid abuse.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, were among the speakers at the event sponsored by The New England Council.
Baker said one area where New England states are working together is sharing information from their prescription monitoring programs.
Baker said the goal is to "get to the point where all of us are in the position where our data is crossing borders so that people won't be able to basically drug shop from state to state."
Massachusetts had 1,089 opioid overdose deaths in 2014, a 63 percent increase over 2012.
Hassan said the opioid crisis has also hit New Hampshire hard, claiming 258 lives so far this year in a state with one-fifth the population of Massachusetts. She also called for a more efficient prescription drug monitoring process.
Hassan also pointed to efforts in Massachusetts to crack down on the powerful narcotic fentanyl, which can be mixed with heroin or cocaine — sometimes without the user's knowledge.
"We know that we need to bring the laws and penalties in New Hampshire for the distribution and sale of fentanyl in line with those for heroin," Hassan said.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey also spoke at the event.
Markey said the country needs a national strategy to stop the over-prescription of pain medication and guarantee that doctors and other medical professionals are educated in responsible prescribing practices.
"The prescription drug and heroin crisis is wearing families down to the bone," Markey said. "We need to give them hope."
Also Monday U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, urged the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to permit the partial filling of opioid prescriptions, which she said would reduce surpluses of opioid medication.
Massachusetts recently launched a public education campaign driving home the point that addiction is an illness, not a moral failure.
Medical schools said standards unveiled Monday were developed by the state public health commissioner, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the medical schools at the University of Massachusetts, Boston University, Tufts University, and Harvard University, which have about 3,000 students combined.
Under the 10 "core competencies," students will learn how to evaluate the risk of opioid addiction, to treat patients at risk of substance abuse before they become addicted, and manage addiction as a chronic disease.
Each school will tailor the standards to complement existing curricula to ensure they are delivered to all students.
Also Monday, a group of sheriffs met with Baker to express support for his opioid bill.
Baker's bill would restrict patients to a three-day supply of painkillers the first time they are prescribed an opioid drug, or when they receive a prescription from a new doctor. Patients could seek refills after the three-day period and exceptions would be made for certain chronic conditions.
Top legislative leaders have said they're not sold yet on another of Baker's proposal which would let doctors commit a person involuntarily to a drug treatment facility for up to 72 hours if they're considered an immediate danger to themselves or others.