Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has declared a public health emergency in response to the state’s growing opioid addiction epidemic, issuing an order banning the controversial new form of hydrocodone, Zohydro, and taking a number of other steps to curb overdoses and help the addicted. In a press release, the governor said the use of oxycodone and other narcotic painkillers, often as a route to heroin addiction, has been on the rise for the last few years in Massachusetts; at least 140 people have died from suspected heroin overdoses in communities across the state in the last several months, levels previously unseen. From 2000 to 2012, the number of unintentional opiate overdoses increased by 90 percent, he added. The prescribing and dispensing of Zohydro, which was recently approved for sale by the FDA despite widespread protests, will be prohibited “until it is determined that adequate measures are in place to safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose and misuse,” he said. The governor added:
The introduction of this new painkiller into the market poses a significant risk to individuals already addicted to opiates and to the public at large.
In addition to banning Zohydro, first responders will now be allowed to carry and administer the overdose antidote naloxone. The drug will also be made widely available through standing order prescription in pharmacies in order to provide greater access to family and friends who fear a loved one might overdose.
The state’s health department will now also mandate the use of prescription monitoring by physicians and pharmacies to better safeguard against abuse or misuse. The program was previously voluntary.
An additional $20 million has been dedicated to increasing treatment and recovery services, the governor said.