Collins, King urge feds to increase access for opioid treatment

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The same day Republican Gov. Paul LePage reiterated his intent to use National Guard troops to fight Maine’s growing heroin problem, the state’s U.S. senators called on the federal government to increase access to treatment programs for painkiller addicts.

Those addicted to prescription painkillers often use heroin as a substitute when they can no longer get prescriptions filled or afford to buy black-market painkillers on the street.

LePage on Tuesday told WVOM-FM in Bangor that he has the authority to use the National Guard if the Legislature refuses to provide the resources he seeks to combat Maine’s growing drug problem, according to The Associated Press.

His remark was an apparent dig at lawmakers who watered down his requests to hire additional agents at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

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Later Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, released a statement along with a group of their Senate colleagues announcing a letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell.

The letter, according to a release from King and Collins, urges Burwell to increase access to treatment for prescription painkiller addiction.

“Although effective medications to treat opioid-use disorders exist today, federal regulations continue to limit access to some lifesaving treatments,” according to the release. “Chief among these effective treatments is medication-assisted therapy. Alarmingly, only 10 percent of the 23 million Americans with addiction and substance-use disorders receive any care in a given year.”

The letter added, “Numerous studies have shown that (medication-assisted therapy) is cost-effective, reduces drug use, disease rates, overdose risk and criminal activity among opioid addicted person(s) … Despite the effectiveness of (medication-assisted therapy) as one of the tools available to treat opioid addiction, there is significant under-treatment with this proven therapy.”

According to the letter, raising the “prescriber caps” for “highly effective MAT medications” would enable “physicians to treat more patients … and improve and increase access to quality and comprehensive opioid treatment programs.”

Collins and King view this action as “an important part of larger collaborative efforts between the Congress and the administration to address substance abuse disorders.”

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