Five New England governors convened at Brandeis University Tuesday to develop a new multi-state strategy to combat the region’s growing opioid abuse epidemic.
As part of the plan, the states agreed to establish an improved prescription database and to expand treatment options for opioid abusers across New England, the governors announced in a press conference following the meeting.
“This epidemic has affected too many of our families and communities, but if we work together, we can recover together and we will come out of this crisis with strength and hope,’’ Massachussets’ Governor, Deval Patrick, said in a press release announcing the plan. “Each of the New England governors has taken strong action to combat opiate abuse in their own states, and now we are acting together as one region to take on this challenge.’’
Governors attended from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Maine’s Governor, Paul LePage, was not in attendance due to scheduling conflicts.
Many opioid-addicted patients get around prescription limits by receiving multiple prescriptions from multiple physicians. To address this, the governors plan to make registration in the Prescription Monitoring Program (PPM) mandatory, according to the press release. The PPM is a database of patients’ prescription records and can thus prevent over prescriptions if used efficiently.
Opioids are prescription pain relievers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, heroine, morphine and codeine. Medically, the drugs are used to ease pain. Recreationally, the highly addictive drugs can be used to dull physical and emotional pain or for its euphoric effects.
Under the collaborative plan, low-income opioid abusers seeking medical treatment would be able to receive help from centers across state borders, The Boston Globe reported. That way, if treatment centers in their home state are at capacity, they can receive immediate attention in neighboring states rather than waiting.
The governors also discussed expanding the guidelines for Narcan administration. Narcan is a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of opioids and prevent a lethal overdose.
Opioid abuse is at an all-time high in New England.
In Massachusetts, accidental fatal opioid overdoses surged by 90 percent from 2000 to 2012, according the latest Massachusetts Department of Public Health data. Governor Patrick declared the state’s opioid addiction epidemic a public health emergency in March. Patrick announced an improved state plan to address opioid abuse earlier this month, which included this meeting between regional state governors.
In Vermont, treatment for all opiates increased by more than 770 percent since 2000, Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont said in this year’s State of the State address. The number of heroin related deaths nearly doubled in 2012 compared to the previous year.
In Connecticut, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death among adults. Connecticut is one of sixteen states where death by overdose is more common than by car accident.
In New Hampshire, the number of fatal overdoses more than tripled between 2000 and 2010 with approximately 20 percent of these deaths determined to be suidcide. Additionally, the rate of New Hampshrie young adults abusing pain killers is especially high—16.78 percent in New Hampshire compared to 11.94 percent nationwide—according to the 2009-2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
In Rhode Island, approximatley four people die from illicit or prescription overdoses per week, according to a 2013 Department of Health report.
But the opiod epidemic is not limited to New England. Opioid abuse is rising across the country with 156,000 people reporting they started using the drug in 2012, nearly double the number of new users in 2006.