Hassan outlines federal plan to curb opioid abuse

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. speaks during a press conference on the State's comprehensive response to the opioid public health crisis in New Hampshire, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, at the Statehouse in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Published: 9/8/2016 11:43:32 PM

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan says she would require doctors nationwide to use prescription drug monitoring programs if she is elected to the U.S. Senate this fall.

Such programs are meant to curb opioid abuse by tracking prescriptions and preventing patients from “doctor shopping.” New Hampshire decided to make the state tracking program mandatory just this year and allocated $130,000 to upgrade the software.

Forty-nine states use prescription monitoring programs, but just 26 require doctors consult the information before writing opioid prescriptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Hassan outlined a federal plan to curb opioid abuse Thursday, an issue that has become a focal point in the U.S. Senate race. Hassan is seeking to unseat Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte.

Outside groups have run several attack ads recently accusing Hassan of “mismanaging” the state’s opioid crisis as governor. Hassan has called the television ads “disgusting” and Ayotte has criticized a politicization of the issue, calling for some to be taken down. The ads continue to run online and on television.

Many of Hassan’s proposals mirror state efforts. She called for investigations into pharmaceutical companies marketing of prescription painkillers, pledged to support funding for local police departments, and called for increased border patrol agents to help stop the flow of drugs to the U.S. from Mexico.

“The measures outlined in this plan are critical steps that should be taken immediately at the federal level to help support states and local communities in their responses to this crisis,” she said in a statement.

The state has in the last year increased funding for cracking down on opioid dealers and drug courts, which treat offenders instead of incarcerating them. Hassan has said expanded Medicaid is a major step forward because it offers insurance to low-income residents for whom treatment may have previously been out of reach.

But major obstacles remain and drug deaths in the state continue to rise.

More than 430 people died from drug overdoses last year, and the state medical examiner’s office is expecting the number to near 500 in 2016. A recently released report found that private insurance companies paid drug treatment providers in New Hampshire substantially less than Medicare rates for the same common services, which advocates say makes it hard for providers to attract staff of expand services. The state attorney general’s office’s ongoing investigation into deceptive marketing practices by Purdue Pharma, maker of the painkiller OxyContin, has stalled because the company has refused to turn over documents.

Ayotte, for her part, has focused on moving forward the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which recommends additional funding for addiction treatment and recovery. She also proposed stiffer federal penalties for people caught with small amounts of fentanyl, a powerful painkiller linked to more than half of the drug overdose deaths in New Hampshire last year.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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