AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage proposed Wednesday to place strict new limits on the prescription of addictive opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines.
The bill comes amid a prolonged effort at the local, state and national levels to curb a drug addiction epidemic in Maine and elsewhere. Sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, the governor’s bill seeks the following:
— The requirement that prescribers check the Prescription Monitoring Program before prescribing opioids to a patient. This would prevent patients from getting the same addictive medications from multiple doctors.
— A limit on opioid prescriptions to 100 morphine milligram equivalents per day.
— A limit on prescriptions for chronic pain to 15 days and for acute pain to three days.
— A requirement that prescribers undergo training in opioid prescribing, beginning in 2018.
— A requirement that opioid prescriptions be electronically transmitted to pharmacies in an effort to cut down on fraudulent written prescriptions.
“We are facing a heroin crisis that was created in large part due to the unchecked flood of prescription painkillers into our communities,” LePage said in a written statement. “It’s time for some common sense limits on prescribing these dangerous and highly addictive pills. With limits in place today, we can see a reduction in heroin addiction tomorrow.”
Officials at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said these measures are long overdue.
“If these measures had only been in place 10 years ago, I doubt we would have seen a heroin abuse crisis of today’s magnitude,” Dr. Christopher Pezzullo, chief health officer for DHHS, said. “We are committed to ensuring that medical professionals can easily adapt to these changes and become a part of the solution to the crisis.”
But others in Maine’s medical community question that conclusion.
According to the Maine Medical Association, citing what it called “suspect” data from the Prescription Monitoring Program, only about 7 percent of the prescribers registered with the program use it regularly. The Maine Medical Association, in anticipation of this bill from LePage, has prepared an alternative proposal which is being sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. That bill would direct health professional licensing boards to mandate the use of existing rules for prescribing controlled substances.
Katz’s bill is expected to be unveiled this week.
LePage’s bill has not yet been written but will be presented to the Legislature in the coming days.
These state-level bills come as the U.S. Senate begins consideration of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.