Baker says feds, pharm industry should fight opioid addiction harder

  • Gov. Charlie Baker with reporter Lenny Bernstein at a Washington Post Live event Thursday. shns photo

State House News Service
Thursday, February 22, 2018

Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday outlined a series of areas where he’d like to see the federal government and the pharmaceutical industry each get more “aggressive” in the fight against opioid addiction.

Speaking at a Washington Post Live event, Baker stressed the role prevention and education play in efforts to reduce the rates of opioid addiction, overdoses and deaths. Post reporter Lenny Bernstein, who moderated the discussion with Baker, referred to Massachusetts as “one of the few places where good news is coming out” when it comes to opioids.

A report released this month by the Department of Public Health showed that 1,977 people died of confirmed or suspected opioid overdoses in 2017, down 8.3 percent from the 2,155 logged in 2016, marking the first year-over-year decline in deaths for several years. Since 2013, there has been an increasing trend both in the percentage of opioid-related emergency medical service calls and in EMS calls involving administration of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, according to the DPH data.

Baker said the state still has “miles and miles to go” in combating addiction, but that people here are “breathing a sigh of relief” that some of the efforts taken seem to be working.

Asked what role he thinks pharmaceutical companies should play, Baker said, “I guess I’d start with, how about do no harm?”

“Stop promoting these medications with a far more tilted set of statements and promotional notions about the positive side of this stuff without talking at all or even downplaying the negative side,” he said.

Baker said he’d like to see the industry “get a lot more aggressive about the pricing and promoting” of tamper-proof drugs that are harder to misuse, describing them as “certain kinds of medications in this space that are far less easy to crush and break.”

“They give lip service to that, but if you look at the way all this stuff is priced, for the most part, there’s far more of the tamperable stuff on the market than the tamper-proof stuff on the market,” Baker said.

Baker was a member of President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which in November released a final report recommending measures including federal funding increases and prevention education in schools.

“I would love to see the feds get very aggressive about education,” Baker said during the forum, held at the Hyatt Regency Boston. Safe prescribing and pain management practices could be incorporated into medical schools and continuing education nationally, modeled after the approach at schools in Massachusetts, he said.

An opioid bill Baker filed last November aims to “create sort of a structured program around recovery coaching,” he said Thursday. An ongoing recovery coach pilot program has yielded encouraging preliminary results, Baker said.