June 17, 2014 / 6:11 PM / 6 years ago

New England states joining forces to take on heroin crisis

WALTHAM, Mass., June 17 (Reuters) - The governors of five New England states said on Tuesday they would begin to share data on prescriptions to cut down on “doctor shopping,” with heroin addiction and overdose deaths on the rise as a result of prescription painkiller abuse.

The goal is to stop patients who have become dependent on opioid painkillers, which include Vicodin and Percocet, from visiting multiple doctors, typically without the doctors’ knowledge, to obtain large amounts of the drugs.

Such painkillers are often prescribed after surgeries and major dental procedures.

“People get introduced to a drug and enjoy the use of that product and that, in many cases, leads to doctor or clinic shopping and that shopping doesn’t necessarily honor state borders,” said Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy.

Dependence on those drugs can escalate into addiction to heroin, which is often cheaper, said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

“Narcotic painkillers have become a route to heroin as well here in (Massachusetts) as well as around the region,” Patrick said.

Patrick, Malloy and their peers from Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island said the states would create a registry to help prevent multiple doctors prescribing the same pain medications to the same patient.

More than 16,000 people die in the United States each year from overdoses of prescription opioid drugs, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The five states will also collaborate on developing an ad campaign to illustrate the dangers of the drugs, share treatment resources for addicts who seek help and work to develop guidelines intended to limit the number pills prescribed at any one time.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who devoted the entirety of his annual state of the state address this year to the problem, said he does not believe the region is facing a higher rate of opioid drug abuse than other states.

“The problem is no worse in New England than it is in the other states I think the difference is that we happened to have a group of governors who recognize that this is a crisis that affects all the people we work for every day as governors,” he said.

Malloy later on Tuesday is due to sign into a law a measure allowing anyone in Connecticut to administer the opioid-overdose antidote drug naloxone to someone believed to be overdosing. The state had previously allowed only licensed healthcare practitioners to do so.

A Massachusetts program to train civilians to use naloxone has reversed close to 3,000 overdoses, about five times as many as police have stopped.

Maine’s Paul LePage, the region’s lone Republican governor, did not attend the meeting due to a scheduling conflict. LePage in the past has opposed expanding access to naloxone, saying that it could encourage addicts to avoid treatment.

But the issue does not break down along party lines nationally. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Tuesday that his state would begin issuing naloxone to police statewide. (Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Jim Loney)

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