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Sunday, June 22, 2014

New Hampshire, New England leaders bolster prescription drug monitoring programs

Responding to the heroin epidemic plaguing New Hampshire and the rest of the region, state leaders last week took significant steps to try to combat the drug’s resurgence here and across New England.

In New Hampshire, that meant taking one of the final steps toward establishing a statewide Prescription Monitoring Program. ...

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Responding to the heroin epidemic plaguing New Hampshire and the rest of the region, state leaders last week took significant steps to try to combat the drug’s resurgence here and across New England.

In New Hampshire, that meant taking one of the final steps toward establishing a statewide Prescription Monitoring Program.

On Wednesday, the state’s Executive Council approved a $333,569 contract with Health Information Designs through 2019.

The aim of the effort is to allow doctors and pharmacists to see controlled drug-buying habits of their patients to determine whether there is a potential for abuse.

During her State of the State address in Nashua on Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan announced that the state had been awarded a grant to fund the program and that it will launch in July.

The following day, Executive Councilors chose Health Information Designs, an Alabama company, to install software to gather prescription data.

“This is the way pharmacists and doctors who are prescribing can look to see a patient’s prescription history statewide and get a sense whether that patient is drug-seeking or really there for a prescription drug because of a medical condition,” Hassan said.

A day after her State of the State speech to the audience at the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, Hassan met with the governors of four other New England states, who committed to looking for stronger cross-border monitoring of prescription painkillers as part of a regional strategy.

The governors of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island met at Brandeis University and agreed to set up a system for sharing information among their own states’ prescription monitoring programs and – to help stop the practice known as “doctor shopping” – make registration of doctors in the programs mandatory across the region.

Citing long waiting lists and other barriers to treatment, the governors also promised to explore interstate Medicaid agreements that would allow treatment for opiate addiction across state borders.

“This isn’t a problem we solve overnight, and it isn’t a problem that any group of citizens is going to solve by themselves,” Hassan said at the meeting.

The governors said they would form a working group of top-level staff to continue discussions over the summer, with a goal of reaching a final plan by the end of September.

Also on Friday, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., announced a new bill she is co-sponsoring with Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., that she says will give law enforcement more tools to fight prescription pain medication abuse.

The bill, dubbed the “Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act,” would establish a “inter-agency task force” to examine the best practices for prescribing opioid pain killers to help patients with legitimate conditions while also preventing abuse of the drugs, according to a statement from Ayotte’s office.

The task force would include doctors and pharmacists, as well as representatives from the U.S. departments of health and human services, defense, veteran’s affairs and the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to the statement.

“The bill will also give law enforcement greater access to important tools to fight heroin use, and calls for a well-coordinated drug awareness campaign with a particular focus on the links between prescription opioid abuse and heroin addiction,” Ayotte said.

The bill would authorize a fund – the Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program – that would offer competitive grants to states to pay for monitoring programs. It also would reauthorize the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, which pays for a wide array of law enforcement, treatment and prevention programs at the state and local level, according to the statement from Ayotte’s office.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached
at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Cote
on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).