2017-07-27 / Editorial

Legislators address opioid abuse

Legislative Lowdown
by Rep. Martin Grohman

Last year, in an effort to reduce opioid abuse, Maine enacted one of the toughest opioid prescription laws in the nation. Most agree that excessive overprescribing of opioid painkillers is what led to the epidemic that Maine and the nation are now facing. In fact, Maine leads the nation in rates of long-acting opioid prescriptions, and the overdose death rate in Maine increased 40 percent from 2015 to 2016. It is a crisis; 272 Mainers were lost to opioid/ heroin deaths in 2015, and there were 376 overdose deaths in 2016.

The new law requires doctors to work with people taking opioids by prescription to reduce their daily medication (this reduction is known as “tapering”) down to no more than 100 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per day. Other elements of the new legislation include a required Prescription Monitoring Program for both prescribers and dispensers and mandatory electronic prescribing. This required check and the elimination of the paper prescription form helps prevent doctor shopping. Additionally, there are also limits on the length of prescriptions to reduce the total number of pills dispensed.

There are exceptions built into the law for active and aftercare cancer treatment, palliative care and end-of-life and hospice care. There are also exceptions for emergency rooms, inpatient hospitals, long-term care facilities, residential care facilities and for medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder.

However, as is sometimes the case with new legislation, there were unintended consequences. Doctors knew they could prescribe more than the 100 MME for patients treated for cancer or hospice care, but many didn’t think they could go over that limit for patients with chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists beyond the usual course of an acute disease or healing of an injury. Thanks to new emergency legislation we recently enacted, there are new clarifications that people with chronic pain can be exempt from the prescribing requirements in very limited cases. An additional benefit of the new law is that partial filling of prescriptions at patient request is available – that is to say, you can ask for fewer pills than what you were prescribed, so as not to be left with extras.

Clearly, opiate medications – when properly prescribed and taken under the advisement of a medical professional –work for acute pain. However, you should not keep them around the house in any quantity. And you can safely dispose of expired or excess medication at any time at the Biddeford Police Department thanks to ITS self-service kiosk which is open 24/7.

Thanks to Ernie Merritt of the Southern Maine Pain Support Group for allowing me to attend a monthly meeting and learn more about chronic and severe pain. You can learn more about this group at painsupportgroup.org. And for more information about the new legislation and the recent changes, visit mainemed.com.

Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature. Outside the legislature, he is chair of the Biddeford Solid Waste Commission, and hosts a podcast for entrepreneurs called The Grow Maine Show, available on Apple Podcasts. Sign up for legislative updates at www.growmaine.com or facebook.com/repgrohman.

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