The elected leaders of Maryland, Virginia and the District called Tuesday for sharing data on opioid prescriptions as part of a regional effort to combat a rapidly growing addiction crisis.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said they are committed to linking their prescription-monitoring systems to help prevent misuse of the drugs, which health experts have cited as the cause of surging overdose rates nationwide.
“We need to know when folks are doctor-shopping,” McAuliffe said at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Regional Opioid and Substance Abuse Summit in Linthicum, Md. “We need to have knowledge, and then we need to hold doctors accountable.”
McAuliffe touted his state’s limits on prescribing opioid-based pain medications, noting that he signed a law this year prohibiting doctors from prescribing more than a seven-day supply of the drugs for acute pain.
Doctors in Virginia must reevaluate patients before refilling their prescriptions for treating acute pain, and write risk-assessment reports if the extensions continue beyond three months.
Hogan proposed a similar seven-day limit for Maryland, but his administration and the Democratic-majority legislature scaled back the bill after the state medical society raised concerns that it left physicians too little flexibility.
The revised legislation, which Hogan signed last month, requires doctors to follow best practices for prescribing opioids, such as standards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and allows the Maryland Board of Physicians to take action against those who do not follow such guidelines.
Hogan said he will continue pressing for stricter prescription limits, playfully suggesting that he would lure his Democratic counterpart from Richmond to help make it happen.
“Maybe we’ll send Governor McAuliffe down there to Annapolis to get some of his Democratic colleagues to go along with our proposal,” the first-term Republican quipped.
McAuliffe said he’d be “glad to assist” Hogan, and opined that “his legislature should go for it.”
Del. Eric M. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), who chaired the bipartisan work group that ushered the Maryland legislation to passage, said the amendment that eliminated the seven-day limit came from the Hogan administration.
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor agreed to the scaled-back proposal as a “first step” toward addressing overprescribing.
McAuliffe, speaking to reporters after a panel discussion, said trusting physicians to follow best-practices is not an effective way to curb an addiction epidemic that included more than 1,400 overdose deaths in Virginia last year and more than 1,460 in Maryland in the first nine months of 2016.
“It is clear that way too many doctors are prescribing way too many pills, and they’re getting folks addicted,” McAuliffe said. “I honestly don’t think we can be strong enough. . . . We’ve had some trust before, and I now have a crisis on my hands.”
There were 198 opioid-related deaths in the District in the first 11 months of 2016. All three jurisdictions have seen steady increases in the number of opioid-related deaths. Hogan said Tuesday that six people die in Maryland each day, on average, as a result of overdosing on opioids — more than are killed by guns or in vehicle accidents.
Bowser, Hogan and McAuliffe noted that each of their jurisdictions have launched public-awareness campaigns, expanded access to overdose-reversal drugs, increased funding for treatment and taken steps to improve collaboration between agencies.
Bowser highlighted a D.C. pilot program in which city health officials partnered with fire and EMS personnel to offer immediate access to treatment for individuals who have overdosed.
She said the city has a new forensic chemistry unit that tests syringes found with overdose victims for traces of deadly synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil, which are significantly more powerful than heroin and have become increasingly common in recent years.
“As new synthetics emerge, this form of testing provides us with another tool that helps our law enforcement partners find out how these drugs are getting into our jurisdictions, which is critically important to their prosecutions,” Bowser said.
The leaders acknowledged that sharing data from their jurisdictions’ prescription-monitoring programs could involve legal and technical challenges.
“We’ve all got different laws and different systems, so the concept of us working together and sharing information is a good one, but there’s also legal issues we have to address,” Hogan said. “Sharing the information in general about what trends we’re seeing and what kinds of things are working and where we’re seeing upticks is helpful.”