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Massachusetts governor unveils plan to tackle opioid drug abuse

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on Tuesday unveiled a $20 million package of proposals to tackle what he described as a crisis of addiction to opioid drugs in the state, and called for a summit of all six New England governors to address a broader regional response.

A commission appointed by the Democratic governor, who in March declared addiction to opiate drugs a public health emergency, called for steps including expanding treatment for drug addicts in state prisons and creating new live-in centers to treat addicts as young as 13 years old.

"These actions will help enhance our network for treatment and recovery services to help communities and families struggling with addiction," Patrick said at a Boston high school that provides treatment services for addicted teenagers.

Opioid abuse can start with prescription painkillers and escalate to heroin use. In Massachusetts alone, some 668 people died from opioid drug overdoses in 2012, almost double the level in 2000, according to the state report.

The commission also called on state regulators to review how doctors prescribe and pharmacies dispense opioid pain relievers, noting that "safe prescribing and dispensing practices are needed to decrease the risk of misuse and abuse while allowing for the legitimate use of these important medications."

Patrick said he planned to meet with his counterparts from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine next week to discuss ways they could collaborate to reduce opiate abuse in New England.

Representatives for Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, Connecticut's Dannel Malloy, Vermont's Peter Shumlin and New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan confirmed the governors would attend next week's summit. A spokeswoman for Maine's Paul LePage, the sole Republican governor in the region, said he would not attend due to a prior commitment.

An earlier effort by Patrick to cut opioid drug use in the state by banning the sale of Zogenix Inc's prescription painkiller Zohydro was knocked down by a federal court in April, which ruled that only the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had the authority to regulate such sales.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid, Eric Beech and Will Dunham)

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