New England governors convened Tuesday in Massachusetts in an attempt to come up with a way to more effectively monitor cross-border prescription painkiller trafficking. The discussion was part of a strategy to stem a regional spike in heroin overdoses and abuse of other opioids.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined his fellow governors from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont to set up a system for sharing information between the states’ prescription drug monitoring programs in an effort to stop a practice known as “doctor shopping.”
When he returned to Connecticut Tuesday afternoon, Malloy held a ceremonial bill signing regarding legislation that would allow a family member or a friend to request a prescription for Naloxone hydrochloride, or Narcan, from any health care official. The drug helps reverse an opioid or heroin overdose.
“Narcan saves lives,” was the popular phrase used by many at the press conference.
“There’s nothing about Narcan that can do anything other than save a life,” Patricia Rehmer, Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, said. “No side effects, no potential for abuse, just a medication that helps people who are suffering from an overdose of some sort of opiate.”
Malloy agreed and went on to say that the state’s commitment to sharing more data will play a big part in the war on drugs.
“Folks who become addicted to a prescriptive opiate are finding ways to get multiple doctors to give them prescriptions to feed that habit,” Malloy said. “In some extreme cases, there are people who are making money off of that. That information should be tracked and made available.”
Malloy added that while some states are requiring doctors to review that data before writing a prescription, Connecticut is not planning to take it “that far.” The governor does, however, plan on having conversations with pharmacies in the hope that the widespread use of opioids and other addictive prescriptions will be made more transparent in the future.
In addition to prescription shopping, Malloy cited duration as one of the larger factors of opioid abuse. According to Malloy, there is a “good chance” that doctors will over-prescribe their patients, writing scripts for 30 days when they should be prescribing only a few days worth of painkillers. Although Malloy is not a medical expert, widespread amounts of data back his claim. Over the last decade, the number of prescriptions written for the strongest opioids have increased nearly fourfold, with only limited evidence of their long-term effectiveness or the associated risks, federal data shows.
The prescription epidemic also is prevalent in Connecticut, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA collected 780,158 unused prescription drugs from the medicine cabinets of residents in more than 50 municipalities. Connecticut’s Take Back campaign has amassed over 4 million pounds of unused prescriptions since it’s launch in 2007.
Heroin use is also considered an epidemic. According to a Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Connecticut Department of Health, 3.4 percent of high school students have used heroin at one time. Similarly, the Office of the Medical Examiner issued a report that cited a 48-percent rise in accidental heroin deaths in Connecticut in 2014.
Public Health Commissioner Jewell Mullen said that the legislation will actively curb heroin use.
“If we are effective as we need to be in our collective work, ultimately there will be fewer deaths that even need to be prevented, that would then stem the crisis with prescription opioid use that so often leads to the problem of prescription heroin use,” Mullen said.