New England governors to discuss drug response
BOSTON -- The six New England governors will convene next week to map out a regional response to the growing problem around opioid drug abuse, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Tuesday.
The June 17 meeting at Brandeis University in Waltham will include discussion of how law enforcement can work together to stem the flow of illegal drugs across state lines, along with coordinated approaches to treatment in the region and development of a unified public information campaign.
The announcement came as an opioid abuse task force set up by Patrick released its final report with a series of recommendations, such as an expansion of community-based treatment and recovery programs, including those tailored to teenagers and young adults.
Patrick said a regional solution was important in part to remove geographical roadblocks to addiction treatment, noting that it might be easier for some people who live near state lines to seek treatment across borders.
"So how do we create a system that makes it more fluid to move across state lines if that is what is most convenient to get the service that is best for you?" Patrick asked.
The governor declared a public health emergency in March in response to a sharp rise in overdoses and deaths from heroin and other opiates. Other states in the region have been experiencing similar crises.
Heroin deaths jumped to 21 in 2013 in Vermont, up from single digits over the previous decade. Treatment for heroin or painkiller abuse rose from 399 people in 2000 to 3,479 in 2012, a per capita rate now second in the nation. Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted much of his most recent State of the State address to the heroin problem.
In New Hampshire, 68 people died of heroin-related overdoses in 2013, compared with 38 the previous year and 16 in 2008. Also rising are burglaries, robberies and assaults associated with drug-seeking, officials said.
Heroin related overdose deaths in Connecticut climbed by 48 percent last year, according to state officials.
States have responded in several ways to address the spike in overdoses. Rhode Island, for example, instituted emergency regulations that make the anti-overdose drug Narcan more widely available.
The Massachusetts task force report also recommended that the state's Health Policy Commission conduct a review of insurance coverage for opioid addiction. Patrick said he was concerned by reports that some private insurance carriers were placing barriers in the way of treatment.
"I'm done with that. That has to be fixed," he said. "The insurers have to come to the table. We need a solution which has everybody contributing to help people get better."
The recommendations were announced at an alternative Boston high school that's one of four in Massachusetts that work with students recovering from substance abuse problems.
Patrick ordered restrictions earlier on the powerful new painkiller Zohydro, a hydrocodone-based prescription drug that comes in higher doses than Vicodin and other comparable drugs. The company that makes the drug, San Diego-based Zogenix, has gone to federal court to challenge the restrictions.
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