An assortment of opioid-related bills currently before the Legislature strikes the right balance of increasing accountability for drugmakers while educating patients on the risks associated with addictive painkillers and enabling health care providers to better monitor prescription abuses.
Several lawmakers have proposed legislation to better educate those who prescribe narcotics, to make it easier to track evidence of abuse and to more effectively assess the progress of efforts to reduce the risk of addiction and abuse. Taken as a whole, the body of proposed laws demonstrates the Legislature is appropriately aware of the scope of the crisis and is poised to take meaningful strides in addressing the problem that claims more than 300 lives in Utah every year.
Lawmakers are also discussing the merits of joining a parade of states and cities filing lawsuits against drug manufacturers for pushing the prescription of narcotics and understating their dangers. That may eventually prove to be a fruitful path, but it will do nothing in the short term to help those already wrestling with addiction, or prevent others from tumbling into a pattern of abuse. The state is better off concentrating on the steps it can take to increase awareness, reduce the rate of questionable prescriptions and make it easier for law enforcement to track and prosecute diversion of prescription drugs for unlawful use.
One bill before the House would investigate whether funds currently appropriated for treatment programs are being effectively used. Another would encourage physicians to check the state’s Controlled Substance Database to make sure a patient isn’t an abuser. In a similar vein, a separate measure would empower state regulators to monitor prescription patterns by physicians and to confront a provider if he or she has strayed from standard prescription guidelines. Yet another bill would allow law enforcement officers to more easily access the database while investigating cases of alleged diversion of prescription drugs. Previously, authorities were allowed to access the database with little restriction, which led to cases in which people were investigated and sometimes charged without proper cause. Those cases led to the requirement that officers obtain a warrant before checking the data. The current proposal is an effective approach that balances individual privacy rights with the need for police to quickly investigate tips of abuse.
The state has taken a variety of measures in recent years to curb opioid abuse, and data show that the rate of fatal overdoses from prescribed drugs has decreased somewhat. The rate of death from heroin use, however, has remained steady, and there has been a disturbing upsurge in deaths associated with the use of black market opioids such as fentanyl, in which the rate of overdose deaths rose by nearly 80 percent in 2016.9 comments on this story
Blame for the problem is shared by many. Accountability needs to land with those who manufacture and distribute the drugs both legally and illegally. Health care providers need to be more acutely aware of the potential for patients to abuse the drugs, and patients should be fully aware of the dangerous path before them should they misuse their prescriptions. The assortment of proposed laws before the current Legislature properly addresses all of those areas in ways that will hopefully chip away at a problem that has brought tragedy to too many families.