Rising Prescription Opioid Deaths Spark Reform In New Hampshire

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Regulations to combat opioid overdoses, which are ravaging communities throughout New Hampshire, went into effect Sunday, enforcing stricter rules on doctors when prescribing prescription painkillers.

Doctors in the state are now required to conduct a comprehensive patient-risk evaluation to determine the possible effects a pill may have on a patient. Many people who overdose on substances like heroin began with a dependence on prescription painkillers, but switched after building high tolerances that made them too expensive. New Hampshire experienced a 191 percent increase in heroin or opioid overdose deaths between 2011 and 2015, reports WMUR.

The new regulations are aimed at giving the patient a better understanding of the risks involved with various pills, before the doctor writes a prescription.

“We know that – [with] this crisis we’re in now with the opioid epidemic with people suffering addiction and overdoses and so on – we know that looking back, the number of prescriptions has quadrupled since about the year 2000,” Dr. William Goodman, chief medical officer at Catholic Medical Center, told WMUR. “By putting fewer pills out on the street there’s less chance for diversion and misuse.”

Under the new rules, which took effect Sunday, after the doctor conducts the patient-risk evaluation, the patient must sign an informed consent form regarding potential risks. Before the prescription is sent and filled, the patient’s record will run through a database monitoring prescription drugs to ensure they are not receiving other medications from additional doctors.

“What’s being done here has been shown to be effective elsewhere,” Goodman told WMUR. “And we hopefully will have the same success in seeing fewer pills on the street and fewer people suffering from the side effects of opioids.”

New Hampshire is not the only state with startling increases in the overdose rate from heroin and prescription opioids. Heroin overdoses killed 281 people in Wisconsin in 2015, accounting for more deaths than car accidents and tripling the number of fatalities attributed to heroin in 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, one in every 1,000 residents of Wisconsin was hospitalized for a heroin or opioid drug overdose.

New York experienced a 135.7 percent increase in synthetic opioid and heroin deaths between 2014 and 2015. Connecticut saw a 125.9 percent increase over the same time, while deaths in Illinois spiked 120 percent.

South Carolina experienced the largest increase in the heroin death rate at 57 percent between 2014 and 2015. The heroin death rate also rose 46 percent in North Carolina and 43.5 percent in Tennessee over the same period.

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