N.E. Governors Promise Regional Strategy To Combat Opioid 'Scourge'

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New England governors are promising to develop a regional strategy by this fall to better address opioid addiction and overdoses.

Five governors met at Brandeis University Tuesday. They all say that opioid addiction and overdose rates in their states are rising and affecting the quality of life of all residents.

But by working together, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said the states may be able to develop an effective way to deal with what he says is a public health emergency.

"Everybody has a stake in helping people recover and helping heal families and communities and putting an end to this scourge," he said. "And we believe that working together we can do so."

One step the governors want to take is to allow the New England states to access a prescription drug monitoring program. Brandeis' prescription drug monitoring center is working with the states to develop a way for the states to share that information.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said better monitoring could help cut down on people getting multiple prescriptions for painkillers, either to take themselves or to sell.

"I live in Hartford — it's very close to Springfield," he said. "It's entirely possible that somebody abusing a drug in Hartford will cross the border to Springfield or another community in the commonwealth to make a purchase."

Monitoring prescription drug use is key, the governors say, because people who abuse prescription painkillers often switch to heroin.

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan said the governors reviewed data from Brandeis about how to potentially track rates of abuse.

"One of the things that we saw today with the data at Brandeis was that if you look at areas of your state where there are high levels of prescription drug abuse, you will see about three years later the high level of heroin use as well," she said. "So we know that one really does lead to the next."

The governors also seem eager to tackle the controversial issue of potential over-prescribing by doctors. Patrick said they will consult with medical professionals about how to do that.

The governors also want to look at expanding treatment agreements among state Medicaid programs.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said getting people into treatment quickly is critical.

"What we're saying as governors is, the sky is the limit," he said. "Let's figure out how to treat this like the health care crisis that it is. When someone has cancer in Vermont and they go to New Hampshire to get treated, we don't say, 'We're not going to treat you because you went to New Hampshire.' "

Maine Gov. Paul LePage did not attend Tuesday's meeting, citing scheduling conflicts.

The governors did form a working group that will report recommendations to them by the end of September. The governors will also discuss the issue when they meet for a conference in New Hampshire in July.

This post was updated with the All Things Considered feature version.

This article was originally published on June 17, 2014.

This segment aired on June 17, 2014.

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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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