Prescription Bill Slows Opioid Flow

October 21, 2017

The state Senate unanimously has passed a bill that would help to heal some of the damage caused by Rep. Tom Marino’s bill diminishing the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration to reduce the flow of powerful prescription opioid painkillers onto the black market. Marino, the 10th Congressional District Republican from Lycoming County, withdrew from consideration to be the national “drug czar” this week. A “60 Minutes”/Washington Post exposé revealed that Marino’s Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 had hamstrung the DEA. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 54,000 of the 64,000 Americans who died of drug overdoses in 2016 used opioids. About 14,400 of those people overdosed on prescription opioids; thousands more overdosed on illegal heroin, fentanyl and other opioid derivatives after first becoming addicted to prescription opioids. The former chief administrative law judge of the DEA has written that the Marino bill made it impossible, in effect, for the DEA to prevent the flow of millions of prescription opioid pills into “pill mill” operations where they vastly were overprescribed, fueling widespread addiction and making pills available for the black market. Under the new state Senate bill, physicians would be able to prescribe opioids to cover only seven days of prescribed dosage, after which patients would have to seek new prescriptions. It also would require prescribers to warn patients of the dangers of opioid addiction. Enforcement would be through a new statewide database on opioid prescriptions that prescribers and pharmacies must use to ensure that patients do not receive multiple prescriptions. The bill includes exemptions for hospitalized patients, cancer care and documented chronic pain cases. Lawmakers always should be wary of interfering in doctor-patient relationships. But opioid addiction is a massive public health crisis that warrants the intervention. Diminishing addiction to prescription opioids is a worthy goal in itself, but it also has the effect of reducing the likelihood of transition from prescription to illegal opioids. The House and Gov. Tom Wolf should approve the measure.