ASAM Monitors Access to Medications

by Matt Vandover | April 18, 2014

Local policy decisions around the nation are impacting the ability of ASAM members to practice medicine, with members encountering restrictions like those that limit patient ability to access prescribed medication.  

Recently, the state addresses of Governor LePage of Maine and Governor Shumlin of Vermont symbolized how local politics affect addiction care, with both states proposing radically different approaches to halt a growing heroin overdose epidemic sweeping through New England. ASAM’s Patient Advocacy Task Force (PATF) is working closely with state chapters to preserve access to addiction care and educate legislators about the chronic brain disease.

In Maine, Governor LePage’s state address largely ignored funding addiction treatment and instead proposed a heavy-handed solution - increased funding to add 14 new agents to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Immediate Past President of the Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine, Dr. Mark Publicker, FASAM, said “The content of Gov. LePage’s address is not surprising. Gov. LePage is steadfastly opposed to treatment for addiction patients and proposes solutions that are consistent with draconian notions of addiction being a moral failing rather than a chronic disease like diabetes that needs ongoing management.”

Governor LePage has repeatedly blocked affordable lifesaving measures like a bill passed by a Maine Health and Human Services committee that would have allowed police, firefighters and the general public to administer naloxone to save lives of people overdosing on heroin (Read ASAM’s Statement on Naloxone) and the state has implemented policies that stop patients from getting needed medications to treat their chronic conditions making Maine a very difficult place to get treatment.

In Vermont, just one state away, Governor Shumlin gave a state address that outlined a model approach to solving the opioid overdose epidemic that focused on providing treatment.  

“Governor Shumlin has an intimate understanding that addiction is a chronic brain disease and has done the research to show that treatment works,” says Northern New England Chapter President, Dr. Todd Mandel.

“Listen to this math,” said Governor Shumlin in his address, “a week in prison in Vermont costs about $1,120, but $123 will buy a week of treatment for a heroin addict at a state-funded center.”

ASAM’s PATF has been working with state chapters to spread the message that treatment works and build resources to help educated legislators. The PATF is currently developing fact sheets, state summaries and other resources to include in an advocacy toolkit. There will also be opportunities for communications and media training for members to help spread ASAM’s message that access to treatment is a top priority.

ASAM needs to continue to work closely with the states to make certain that legislation that would impede access to treatment is countered with education and data that shows that, without access to treatment, more people will continue to suffer and die from the chronic brain disease of addiction.

Click here for an analysis of the state addresses from Maine and Vermont.


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  1. Rob Oelhaf May 03, 2014 - 02:05 PM

    It is sad that it will probably take the deaths of the untreated to prove one Governor right and the other wrong. These data need to be collected quickly to minimize the amount of time Maine wanders down the wrong road on this issue.

  2. ASAM Staff Apr 18, 2014 - 03:40 PM

    On March 27, 2014, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency because there is “an epidemic of opiate abuse in Massachusetts”.  The governor ordered that “an immediate ban on the prescribing and dispensing of any hydrocodone-only formulation[s]” be put into place.  He also issued a directive giving first responders permission to carry and administer Naloxone, ordered a Department of Health mandate that physicians and pharmacies use prescription monitoring, and ordered the Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention to make recommendations for further actions in 60 days, and issued a public health advisory to educate the public about opioid addiction treatment options.  

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