Maine May Get New Restrictions on Prescription Painkillers
On March 2, the LePage administration introduced a bill intended to wage war against Maine’s heroin epidemic. The bill would put restrictions on prescription painkillers (opioids), and would be among the more stringent standards in the country. The bill, which would significantly reduce opioid prescriptions, has reportedly been in development for months.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, around 75% of new heroin users were already addicted to prescription painkillers.
Indeed, Maine is suffering from a heroin epidemic. In recent years, there was been a significant increase in overdose fatalities and addicts seeking help for recovery. According to Maine’s Dept. of Health & Human Services, 80 million pills were prescribed to around 350,000 residents in 2014.
Prescription Monitoring Programs
Maine’s Prescription Monitoring Program was developed to prevent patients from doctor shopping. However, only 27 states currently require physicians to reference the the state’s prescription monitoring program before prescribing opioids. About a dozen states offer more in-depth programs, similar to what Maine is considering.
Also, the duration for opioid prescriptions for chronic pain would be limited to just 15 days – and only 3 days for acute pain. Opioid prescriptions would also be limited to 100 morphine milligram equivalents daily.
Studies reveal that opioid prescriptions greater than this amount have a higher potential to be harmful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (October, 2015), a case study involving 8 states put Maine at second highest (15%) for physicians prescribing greater than the new recommended amount.
If approved, the new restrictions would also include benzodiazepines, which are depressants used to treat anxiety, panic disorder, and insomnia. These drugs are also commonly abused, especially in conjunction with opioids.
Prescriptions for opioids in the MaineCare system decreased by 45% from 2012-2014. This was at least partially due to changes made in opioid prescriptions to the state’s version of Medicaid. However, presciptions for opioids using commercial health insurance increased by 5% during the same time frame.
The recent bill, however, would be much stricter than the MaineCare restrictions and would apply to all doctors in the state.
Most states now have a prescription drug monitoring program implemented. However, there are still many loopholes in these systems. In some cases, doctor’s are not required to use it. In others, there is not real-time updating, so doctors are not privy to the latest information regarding their patients.
It seems obvious to me that a system created to restrict prescription painkillers should be used universally, and also be updated in a very timely manner.
Also, as I have worked with seniors in the past, I wonder how these types of rules will affect the terminally ill.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology