AUGUSTA — A handful of new state laws will go into effect on New Year’s Day, including one that aims to help combat Maine’s opioid addiction crisis by limiting dosage amounts of pain-killing opioid prescriptions.

The law could affect as many as 16,000 Mainers, and some state lawmakers already are crafting bills that could roll back the change, which sets the maximum dosage at 100 morphine milligram equivalents per day.

The new law also limits opioid prescriptions for chronic pain to just 30 days, compared with 90 days under current law. In addition, the law limits prescriptions for short-term pain treatment to seven days, down from 10.

The law does provide exceptions to the dosage cap for those suffering from acute pain, such as end-of-life, cancer and after-surgery pain.

Other laws going into effect Sunday include one to allow hard cider made in Maine to become a little harder – going from a maximum 7 percent alcohol by volume to 8.5 percent – and another that requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to increase the reimbursement rates for those who provide home care services to Mainers who receive state-covered health care.

In other changes, high school diplomas awarded by public secondary schools will have to be based on the state’s new proficiency-based performance standards, and employers will be allowed a tax credit of up to a $30 per employee when they are enrolled in a group disability income-protection plan.

The Jan. 1 laws are a small fraction of the measures passed by the Legislature. Most new laws become effective 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, typically in June. A few bills with “emergency preambles,” which require two-thirds support in the Legislature, become effective almost immediately.

SOME OPIOID USERS SAY LIMITS GO TOO FAR

The law setting new limits on prescription painkillers, agreed to by the Maine Medical Association, which represents most of the state’s doctors, is among the most controversial bills passed. At least two lawmakers have said they will try to change those limits after hearing from constituents who said the restrictions will either make them completely disabled or force them to seek opioid pain medicine in the illegal underground market.

Sen. James Dill, D-Old Town, said Wednesday that he was working to draft legislation that could loosen some of the new opioid restrictions or provide an appeal process for patients who require larger doses.

Dill said during his re-election campaign that he visited with dozens of constituents who said the new limits would cause them severe hardships.

“While many of these people are not at a 300 milligram equivalent of morphine amount (the previous limit), the dosage they are at is life-functioning for them,” Dill said. “Without that, some of them could not function, for lots of reasons, some of it is because of illness, some of it was due to accidents.”

The new law takes too much of a one-size-fits-all approach, Dill said.

“What I am aiming to do is either grandfather these people in” or create an appeals process for them, he said.

Although supporters hope the law will limit the exposure and potential for addiction and abuse of opioids, it is not based in medical science, compassion or fairness, Dill said.

However, Dr. Christopher Pezzullo, Maine’s chief health officer, has said the dosage maximum is important because the science does not support such high doses and has shown a connection between higher doses and increased patient overdoses.

The dosage cap of 100 morphine milligram equivalents closely coincides with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on prescribing opioids that were released in March as part of the effort to stem the nation’s opioid crisis. There were 286 overdose deaths in Maine through the first nine months of 2016.

Dill planned to meet Wednesday with Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor. Gratwick, a medical doctor, was among lawmakers who opposed the new limits and also is working on legislation that could modify the law.

STATE PARK PASSES TO COST 50 PERCENT MORE

Another change coming for Mainers in 2017 is a 50 percent price increase for season passes to the state’s park system. Season automobile passes to the state’s 64 parks and historical sites will jump from $70 a year to $105 starting Sunday.

John Bott, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which oversees state parks and forests, said Wednesday that the increase is part of a fee restructuring put in place this year, but its implementation was delayed until 2017. Bott noted that prices for day passes to parks increased in 2016 as well, with Maine residents paying $2 more per visit and non-residents paying $4 more.

Bott said the state had not increased its admission rates for over 14 years, and in some categories, fees have been stagnant for more than 21 years. “Unlike other states, we haven’t had steady incremental increases,” he said.

So far, he said, complaints have been minimal because most park visitors seem to understand the need for revenue. Bott said even at the new higher rate, a family of four would break even on an annual park pass after just four visits.

“We thought we would get some push-back,” Bott said. “But it really didn’t seem to have much of an effect.”

 


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