Christine Stuart photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the governors of five New England states sent a letter to Congressional leaders Tuesday urging them to give medical professionals the ability to prescribe medication for opiate addiction.

In their letter to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the governors reminded them that nurse practitioners can prescribe addictive narcotics for pain, but are barred from prescribing drugs designed to break addiction to narcotics and heroin.

The governors encouraged Congress to support the Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act, which would allow certain nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat up to 100 patients per year with buprenorphine—a drug that helps break the cycle of addiction.

The letter also highlighted the opioid epidemic in the Northeast.

In Connecticut, there were 558 deaths classified as drug overdoses of some kind in 2014. Not all of those were related to opioids, but at least 325 were, according to data provided by the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management.

Last year, Connecticut passed legislation that gives pharmacists the ability to prescribe Naloxone (Narcan) directly to anyone who feels they may have a need for it. A group of advocates last week called for the drug, which can reverse the effect of an opioid overdose, to be give to all first responders in the state.

In 2011, Connecticut passed a Good Samaritan law that protected individuals from prosecution for minor drug crimes if they get someone who is overdosing to a medical professional. In 2012, the governor signed legislation that expanded the ability of prescribers of Naloxone to individuals other than the drug user.

In 2014, Malloy signed legislation that required state police to carry naloxone in their cruisers and as of August 2015 they’ve saved nearly 50 lives.

In Vermont, as of August 2015 more than 2,804 people were in treatment in the state’s opiate treatment centers, up from 1,704 in January 2014.

“The waiting list for services remains unacceptably high at 427. The number of people seeking treatment continues to overwhelm the capacity of our system despite the rapid service expansion spurred by the recognition of this crisis,” the governors wrote in their letter.

“Vermont’s numbers reflect a regional trend in the Northeast and across the nation. No state is immune to this crisis,” they added.

The six governors continued: “It is imperative that we remove the barriers to treatment. The health of our families, our communities and our economy rests no our ability to ensure men, women and children who are addicted to drugs have every opportunity to turn their lives around.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, Malloy said this is a big issue and he stressed it’s not just about kids. He said the fastest growing percentage of heroin abusers are 50 to 65. Why? Because that demographic has major tooth surgery or knee replacements and are prescribed pain medication and find themselves addicted.

Those who find themselves addicted are turning to heroin because it offers a similar high and is “dirt cheap,” Malloy said. However, the heroin being purchased on the street is not “dosed” and when people jump from the pill to heroin they’re putting their lives in danger.

Malloy said they’ve seen young people die the first or second time they’ve tried heroin.

“This is happening in our state,” Malloy said Tuesday morning at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast. “It is part of a larger problem.”

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the letter, which was also shared with the leadership of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.