Yager: New state laws to battle Drug Abuse

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New laws are promising in fighting prescription drug abuse in Tennessee

An Editorial by Senator Ken Yager

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), June 25, 2015 – Prescription drug abuse in Tennessee is a very serious health epidemic, but our state legislature has continued to make significant progress in our efforts to curb it.  As of July 1, three new laws will be enacted to tackle the problem of prescription drug abuse and addiction, including one bill that I sponsored which tightens the requirements for medical directors and owners of pain management clinics.

Opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and hydromorpone are responsible for three-fourths of all prescription drug overdose deaths according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  The CDC reports that Tennessee’s overdose death rate of 16.9 per 100,000 population is significantly above the national rate of 12.4 percent.

The legislature has made great strides in cracking down on bad operators of pain clinics over the past several years, including requiring state oversight and a monitoring program for certain prescription drugs. This new law makes changes to current pain clinic certification requirements, including that the medical director or owner must be a licensed physician who holds the required continuing medical education and subspecialty certification in pain medicine.  Medical directors must meet the new requirements by July 1, 2017.

Similarly, legislation I co-sponsored this year repeals Tennessee’s Intractable Pain Treatment Act in an effort to reduce opioid abuse in Tennessee.  The new law was supported by the state’s district attorneys and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The Intractable Pain Treatment Act was passed in 2001 and included a “Pain Patient’s Bill of Rights” which gave patients a great amount of responsibility to choose opiate medications as a first line of treatment even through other modalities of pain relief exist.  Under the law’s “Patient Bill of Rights,” physicians were required either to provide requested opiate medication or refer to physicians who will.

Since the passage of the 2001 law, Tennessee has experienced multiple negative consequences, including being ranked second in the nation for the rate of opioid pain relievers sold per 10,000 persons.  Prescription opioids also rank as the worst abused drug among individuals receiving state-funded treatment services in Tennessee.

While addressing opioid abuse, it is very important that we focus on treatment.  The third bill set to go into effect on July 1 aims to save the life of a person seeking medical assistance for a drug overdose.  The Addiction Treatment Act of 2015, which I co-sponsored, prevents certain criminal drug charges from being filed against an individual who is seeking emergency medical assistance upon experiencing an illegal drug overdose if it is their first time.  The protection also applies to good Samaritans assisting them in seeking medical care.  The bill does not prohibit police officers from charging either of these individuals with other crimes based on evidence.

Another section of the bill restricts the prescription of Buprenorphine, a semisynthetic opioid with a variety of formulations like Subutex and Suboxone, to the treatment of opiate dependence in accordance with Federal Drug Administration (FDA)-approved limitations.  This action prevents the drugs from being used for pain management, keeping Buprenorphine from being prescribed for indications not approved by the FDA and in amounts that are not within recognized parameters.

Finally, the legislation authorizes the Commissioner of Health to make available recommendations for training first responders in the appropriate use of opioid antagonists, specifically naloxone hydrochloride. The recommendations must include a provision concerning the appropriate supply of opioid antagonists to first responders to administer consistent with the requirements of this new law.

The new statute was supported by the addiction treatment and recovery community in collaboration with the Tennessee Medical Association.

Prescription drug abuse has a far reaching effect on our state.  It has touched virtually every family in Tennessee.  Although the passage of this recently enacted legislation gives us viable tools to combat abuse and to transform lives of many Tennesseans and their families for the better, we cannot stop here.  There is still much work to do before we truly address the problem we face with drug abuse in Tennessee.  I hope you will join me in that fight.

Reference:  Senate Bill 1266 / Sponsors:  Yager, Briggs, Crowe, Massey, McNally, Bowling / Public Chapter 475 / Effective date:  July 1, 2015; (Senate Bill 157  / Sponsors:  Bowling, McNally, Yager, Watson, Jackson, Bailey, Haile, Kyle / Status:  Public Chapter 26 / Effective date:  July 1, 2015); (Senate Bill 871 / Sponsors:  Dickerson, Yager / Status:  Public Chapter 396 / Effective date:  July 1, 2015)

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