Drug crisis may require tough choices

Maine is in the midst of an opioid explosion and our region is being rocked the hardest.

As the Sun Journal reported Sunday, oxycodone sales in Oxford and Androscoggin counties were up four-fold between 2000 and 2010, the highest rate of increase among 11 zones in Maine, with retail sales going from 11,085 grams in 2000 to 47,405 grams in 2010.

Hydrocodone sales in Androscoggin and Oxford counties were up equally high, again the highest rate in the state.

Oxy and hydrocodone are narcotic, morphine-like medications, although oxycodone is generally considered stronger and has a greater potential for abuse.

Forecaster writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling recently reported that so many painkillers were prescribed in 2010 that they could have supplied every man, woman and child in Maine with 78 five-milligram doses, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency statistics.

The consequences of the abuse are being felt across the state, although the exact dimensions of the problem may not be clear to many Mainers.

The most troubling indicator is the rising death toll. More Mainers now die from accidental prescription overdoses than in car accidents.

But it is harder to calculate the additional costs to society, including lost productivity, treatment, crime and the incarceration of people for drug-related and drug-motivated offenses.

State Rep. and U.S. Senate Candidate Jon Hinck, D-Portland, submitted legislation in 2010 that would have mirrored an aggressive prescription painkiller law passed in 2010 by the Washington state Legislature.

That law set a per-patient threshold for maximum opiate use. After that threshold is reached, patients fall into a continuing use category and their doctors are subject to a host of additional regulatory requirements.

Many Washington state doctors simply stopped prescribing painkillers and the law left some patients in pain and without medication, a condition many called inhumane.

Washington state has acknowledged the law's shortcomings and is working to fix them, but the law — the toughest in the land — remains.

Hinck's bill gave Maine lawmakers the chance to address the crisis head-on. But after a task force report, lawmakers adopted several far less aggressive reforms.

Hinck called the new provisions "weak tea."

Maine may eventually come to the same conclusion as Washington state, that the crisis warrants a tougher approach.

Until then, we should be closely monitoring that state's program to better gauge its overall impact.

In the absence of true reform, the crisis here seems likely to grow.

One thing physicians can do right now is register for and use the state's Prescription Monitoring Program.

The law connects prescribers and pharmacists with a database that records individual patient purchases of restricted drugs. Doctors receive a notification letter when a patient has crossed a threshold for multiple prescribers, pharmacies or drug levels.

Prescribers can also check patient "profiles" before prescribing or extending prescriptions. The database is designed to prevent "doctor shopping" and "pharmacy hopping."

It's an excellent tool and, if used conscientiously, could go a long way toward identifying Mainers at risk and helping them find pain relief alternatives.

About half of Maine's prescribers are registered to use the system, and that number must increase for the program to be effective.

Maine has a deadly problem, and the monitoring program can make a difference.


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Steve  Dosh's picture

Drug crisis may require tough choices

Rex 7:11 pm hst • Thursday hst •
It's a horrible epidemic - a scourge . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxycodone
Here in Hawai'i it's ice ( crystal meth ) and they all - d e s t r o y - families and communities , much like alcohol or other addictive personaility behavior pattern disorders including nicotene and caffeine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methamphetamine No , these drugs are not contagious although the predisposition towards addictions may be inherited and they are preventable
Prevention is the best cure . If you don't talk to your kids about these drugs someone else most certainly will
Missouri ( of all places ) shares these problems with our respective states . Washington state ( as you have noted ) also . There are no quick or E Z solutions . We have instituted a " Not Even Once " ( as in , " We have not used these drugs even one time " ) campaign here in Hawai'i . Time will tell if it has a positive effect . Best of luck . /s, Steve and family . ...

Richard Begin's picture

Drug Crisis

Well done Sun Journal

We need to hear more about this issue.

Just how much is spent by Community Concepts with their Transportation Program that engages drivers both Men and Women to transport methadone Addicts to their appointment.

These drivers are paid (41Cents Per mile) and they do not need to declare their income because it is of a Volunteer status.

I have heard from different drivers that they are growing fed up with delivering these folks to appointments and to contineau to swap one addiction for another.

Perhaps Charelen Chase could answere some of these Questions ? After all isn't she seeking the office of Oxford county Commissioner?

What a better way to serve the Voter then helping us understand the issue.

How About it Charlene?

But good for the Sun Journal for taking on the Touch issues.

I for one am glad your out there investing into the Shoe leather. Ray Fogg and Guy Bryant would have been proud of you folks.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Personal responsibility

Personal responsibility, now there's a real possible solution to this whole mess. Problem is it will never work. there are far to many people out there that lack "personal responsibility". Now you may think that these people will fall into the category called addicts. Its not difficult to spot these people, and yes some of these people will become addicts. Now here's a little bit of information that's going to blow the lid off all these so called experts opinions.
Not all addicts lack "personal responsibility". I am probably the most responsible person in the world when it comes to taking my medications, and I take a bunch of them. I work very closely with my doctors and pharmacist. I thoroughly research every medication I take or have taken over the years. I am very careful about when I take certain medications and when its safe to drive.Still I have become addicted to several medications. Medications I had to take and was totally aware that I would become addicted. Right now I'm in my third week of gradually weening myself off a medication I've been taking for years but unfortunately has run its course. Weening is the safest way to gradually remove a medication from your system without going through withdrawal. Its difficult at times but necessary some times.
I guess what I'm getting to is that yes some people out there need help. There is a large group that don't need any help. I'm just afraid that some yahoo is going to pass a dumb feel good law, that's going to take the responsibility out of my hands and put it with the state or worse. In all the articles I've read in recent weeks, everyone is being put into one group. There is more than one group out there. I guess being called an addict should make me feel worse than I do. Instead I consider it an insult to my inelegance. Long term health care is totally different from a broken leg. I just hope these so called experts will start to see that. If anyone is going to be my own worst enemy, let it be me.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Of all the words to misspell

Inelegance should be intelligence.

Ed Enos's picture

You go!

Well said. Keep up the pressure.


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