New rules to fight opiate addiction

BURLINGTON — The state is making an effort to tighten up the rules surrounding the prescription of opiates and expand the rules surrounding prescriptions to fight opiate addiction.

On Tuesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin outlined rules intended to curb the prescription of drugs such as OxyContin in Vermont, while revealing a multi-state effort to expand the number of people who are allowed to prescribe drugs such as Suboxone for addicts who are seeking treatment.

Gov. Peter Shumlin

Gov. Peter Shumlin

“In the fight against opiate addiction, Vermont has made incredible progress,” Shumlin said. “We still have much work to do. We are fighting this battle on two fronts: helping those already addicted get into treatment and recovery and stopping addiction from taking hold in the first place.”

Since his 2014 State of the State Address – which he devoted entirely to the state’s opiate epidemic – Shumlin has made the issue a cornerstone of his administration’s priorities. Two weeks ago, he announced a program that would provide naltrexone – which prevents an addict’s brain from feeling the effects of an opiate – to inmates leaving prison.

Tuesday, Shumlin outlined new rules for opiate prescribers. First, a doctor or nurse practitioners who prescribes opiates must register with the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System, which is intended prevent a patient from seeking drugs from more than one doctor, in an effort to both curb addiction for the patient and to prevent the opiates from falling into the hands of someone else.

The new rules state a prescribing doctor must check the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System before writing a prescription for an opiate.

Second, before a doctor or nurse practitioners prescribes an opiate, he or she must screen the patient for risk of addiction and diversion of the drugs to others, and must inform the patient of addiction risk. The prescriber must also consider treatment that does not involve opiates, and must follow up with the patient to ensure the treatment is working.

Shumlin has also joined with with the governors of the other five New England States to write a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken. and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., asking Congress to change the rules regarding who can prescribe drugs such as Suboxone that help patients fight opiate addiction.

Currently, any doctor or nurse practitioners can prescribe an opiate; however, under the Drug Treatment Act of 2000, only doctors and nurse practitioners who have gone through specialized training can prescribe drugs that help a patient kick opiate addiction.

Dr. Harry Chen

Dr. Harry Chen

“It is imperative that we remove the barriers to treatment,” the letter states. “The health of our families, our communities and our economy rests on our ability to ensure men, women and children who are addicted to deadly drugs have every opportunity to turn their lives around.”

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said the new initiatives offer even more ways to combat the state’s opiate epidemic

“This an effort to use a broad array of strategies to treat addiction,” Chen said. “We’re not done yet, though. We have a long way to go.”

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