LePage not meeting with New England governors to discuss reducing opiate abuse

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
BRIAN SNYDER | Reuters
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
Posted June 10, 2014, at 2:29 p.m.
Last modified June 10, 2014, at 4:56 p.m.

BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday unveiled a $20 million package of proposals to tackle what he described as a crisis of addiction to opioid drugs in the state, and he called for a summit of all six New England governors to address a broader regional response.

A commission appointed by the governor, who in March declared addiction to opiate drugs a public health emergency, called for steps including expanding treatment for drug addicts in state prisons and creating new live-in centers to treat addicts as young as 13 years old.

“These actions will help enhance our network for treatment and recovery services to help communities and families struggling with addiction,” Patrick said at a Boston high school that provides treatment services for addicted teenagers.

Opioid abuse can start with prescription painkillers and escalate to heroin use. In Massachusetts alone, some 668 people died from opioid drug overdoses in 2012, almost double the level in 2000, according to the state report.

The commission also called on state regulators to review how doctors prescribed and pharmacies dispense opioid pain relievers, noting, “safe prescribing and dispensing practices are needed to decrease the risk of misuse and abuse while allowing for the legitimate use of these important medications.”

Patrick said he planned to meet with his counterparts from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine next week to discuss ways they could collaborate to reduce opiate abuse across the New England region.

Representatives for Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan confirmed the governors would attend next week’s summit.

A spokeswoman for Maine Gov. Paul LePage, the sole Republican governor in the region, said he would not attend because of a prior commitment. Representatives for Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin were not immediately able to comment.

An earlier effort by Patrick to cut opioid drug use in the state by banning the sale of Zogenix Inc.’s prescription painkiller Zohydro was knocked down by a federal court in April, which ruled that only the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had the authority to regulate such sales.

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