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Gov. Patrick issued order banning doctors from prescribing, dispensing drug

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick defended the state’s first-in-the-nation ban of the powerful new painkiller Zohydro after a federal judge suggested in court that his administration may have overreached.

“I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I had a legal footing to do it,” Patrick said at an unrelated event at the Statehouse. “More to the point, I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think we had a real emergency, and we have a real emergency.”

Patrick issued an executive order banning local doctors from prescribing or dispensing Zohydro on March 27, amid concerns that the drug’s availability might exacerbate the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic.

But Zogenix, the San Diego-based maker of the drug, filed a federal lawsuit on Monday arguing that the ban was unconstitutional because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved its use for treatment of severe and chronic pain.

U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel, considering the lawsuit Tuesday, suggested Zogenix’s arguments might have merit.

“I don’t have all the facts,” she said after hearing briefly from both sides. “At the moment, I think the governor is out of line on this. The Federal Drug Administration has examined this issue, has dealt with all the objections to it and is a federal entity.”

Zobel said she will hear more detailed arguments Monday, after which she expects to render a decision on Zogenix’s request for an immediate but temporary halt to the ban. The court would decide at a later date whether or not the ban should be permanently vacated.

Heather Gray, a legislative attorney with the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, says the Massachusetts ban is unique: it might be the first time a state has attempted to block distribution of a FDA-approved drug.

Vermont, which is also grappling with a prescription drug abuse epidemic, stopped short of an outright ban on Zohydro; Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration opted instead to release stricter guidelines for issuing prescriptions.

Patrick on Tuesday suggested that if the drug became available in a tamper-resistant, non-crushable form, Massachusetts might consider lifting the ban and approving tighter restrictions instead. Zohydro is “an example of highly addictive narcotic painkillers and it’s one of the few that is not in an abuse-resistant form,” Patrick said. “Put it in an abuse-resistant form, and I and many others will make our peace with it.”

Zohydro is an extended-release capsule that contains up to five times the amount of narcotic hydrocodone previously available in pills. The company says the drug, which went to market in March, is an important painkilling option because it does not contain acetaminophen, which has the potential to cause liver damage if given in high doses over long periods of time.

But some health authorities say the drug can be easily crushed and then snorted or injected, creating an immediate and potentially lethal high. Zogenix officials say at least four prescriptions for Zohydro were issued in Massachusetts, but were never filled because of the ban.


Gov. Patrick declared public health emergency

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick has declared a public health emergency in Massachusetts with a sharp increase in heroin overdoses and opioid addiction. Numerous states are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what’s happening in Massachusetts:

THE PROBLEM:

Heroin overdoses are on the rise in Massachusetts, fueled by its relatively cheap price and high potency. Police suspect some heroin has been laced with the prescription painkiller fentanyl, making it especially dangerous.

View: 25 facts about heroin

THE NUMBERS:

State police say 185 people died from suspected heroin overdoses in Massachusetts from November through Feb. 26, a figure that does not include overdose deaths in the state’s three largest cities. The number of all opioid-related deaths, which includes heroin, OxyContin and other prescription pain relievers, increased from 363 in 2000 to 642 in 2011, the most recent year for which statewide figures were available.

THE RESPONSE:

Patrick’s emergency order, announced March 27, will allow first responders to carry the overdose drug Narcan and make the antidote more accessible by prescription to family and friends of people battling addiction. Massachusetts health officials say the state’s Narcan nasal spray distribution program has stopped more than 2,000 overdoses since 2007. The governor said his administration will dedicate an additional $20 million for addiction and recovery services. State lawmakers passed a 911 Good Samaritan law in 2012 to provide limited immunity from arrest or prosecution for minor drug law violations for people who call for medical help for themselves or others who have overdosed.


Manufacturer of Zohydro criticizes the ban

Pills, medication

BOSTON — Massachusetts health regulators have sent a letter to doctors and other health care providers outlining the decision to ban the prescribing and dispensing of the painkiller Zohydro.

The Public Health Council approved the ban last week after Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in response to the state’s growing epidemic of heroin overdoses and opioid addiction.

Zohydro is a single-ingredient hydrocodone drug recently approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Patrick said he fears the pill could add to Massachusetts’ spike in overdose deaths.

The letter dated March 31 explains that doctors cannot write Zohydro prescriptions to be filled in other states and cannot order the drug for patients in hospitals or extended care facilities.

San Diego-based Zogenix, which makes Zohydro, has criticized the ban, saying it will add to patient suffering.


Luis Figueroa, 30, arrested

Luis Figueroa

Salem police

SALEM, N.H. — Police say a New Hampshire man crashed into three police cruisers, causing minor injuries to two Salem officers.

Police say they found 30-year-old Luis Figueroa passed out in the front seat of a running car stopped on a road in a condominium complex on Friday night.

According to police, when the officer woke him he sped off, hitting several parked cars before driving head-on into a police cruiser, pushing it back about 15 feet. Police say he hit two other cruisers as he tried to get away.

Figueroa was arrested after a brief struggle. Authorities say they found a large bag of prescription Xanax pills stuffed into his pants.

He’s charged with driving while intoxicated, assault, resisting arrest and other charges.

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