Maine drug abuse panel assembles recommendations
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- A statewide panel looking for solutions to Maine's prescription drug abuse crisis refined its action plan Tuesday as the state was hit with its 24th drugstore robbery, a figure equal to the total number of pharmacy robberies that occurred last year.
The latest robbery occurred Tuesday at a Rite Aid in Bucksport.
A draft report endorsed Tuesday by the Maine Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force focuses on prevention rather than law enforcement, noting that prescription drug addiction is driving the continuing spate of drug store holdups, home burglaries and an alarming number of opiate-related deaths.
"The task force was designed to get drugs off the street, whether it's by misprescribing, disposing of drugs, and educating prescribers on how to look for abuse. We're not a law enforcement task force," said Joe Bruno, the task force chairman, who's also a pharmacist and heads a chain of Maine drug stores. "It definitely is prevention oriented."
While addressing concerns raised by some members of the task force -- which includes members of law enforcement, the medical, dental and pharmacy communities, and state and local agencies -- about parts of its draft report, the panel endorsed four basic recommendations.
It wants to continue drug drop-off programs, which have been popular in Maine with 7 tons of old and unused medications collected by police in the last year's effort. With no expectation of further funding for the federally supported efforts, the states must take on the responsibility.
The task force's focus is on publicizing the drop-off sites at 51 police stations in the state, and at restoring a program in which people can use mailers to send their unused medications to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency for incineration.
The panel also wants to expand a pilot Prescription Monitoring Program, a database pharmacists can consult to help them spot potential abusers or traffickers. The database indicates whether a prescription seeker has been "doctor shopping" or "pharmacy hopping."
To help physicians recognize possible traffickers, the task force is looking at expanding a Diversion Alert system that reports to physicians the names of people who have been arrested or convicted of drug offenses. A trial system, said to be overwhelmingly popular with prescribers, has been set up in northern Maine.
While some concerns have been raised about whether the Diversion Alert could be misused, task force members expressed general support for it.
"I think it's a valuable tool," said Gordon Smith, a member representing the Maine Medical Association. "There's much more positive about this than negative."
The task force is scheduled to meet again in August as it works toward issuing a final report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)