Maine banned gifts for physicians in hopes of slowing down its opioid crisis

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Maine’s legislature passed a bill banning certain courtesy gifts for physicians Monday, sending it to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk in the state’s latest attempt to combat its opioid crisis.

Advocates of the bill hope that it will help prevent over-prescription of opioids in the state by removing potential conflicts of interest for licensed physicians prescribing drugs.

Maine has seen a 40 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in the last year. The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Scott Hamann, views a correlation between payments to doctors and over-prescription, causing a higher chance of addiction and overdose, National Law Review reported Wednesday.

“People are dying, and the addiction often starts in the doctor’s offices,” Hamann said during a hearing.

A University of California-San Francisco study of data from more than 276,000 doctors showed that physicians who received gifts from industry members were two to three times more likely to prescribe brand name drugs. As a result, “gift bans” like Maine’s have enjoyed wide bipartisan support in California, Massachusetts, Vermont and other states.

Maine’s “gift ban” prevents anyone involved with the manufacturing of drugs from giving “gifts,” such as speaking fees or free meals, to physicians licensed to prescribe drugs and opioids. It also applies to anyone involved in the sale of drugs to licensed physicians.

There are exceptions to the rule, however, allowing industry members to give free samples of prescription drugs to patients, pay salaries for licensed employees and compensate doctors for research.

States across the country have been passing bills in an attempt to stem the nation’s opioid crisis. Ohio lawmakers are trying to pass a law this month that would emphasize treatment programs over jail time for drug offenders.

Ohio has the highest heroin overdose rate in the country, and the state’s proposed budget bill would stop sending heroin dealers to prison.

The state also topped the country with nearly 4,000 seizures of fentanyl from 2013 to 2015, a hyper-lethal opioid often mixed with heroin that can kill users who ingest as little as two milligrams.

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