A flurry of legislation aimed at curbing the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic landed on the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett in recent days, including one bill that will allow first responders to carry a life-saving antidote and another expanding the state’s drug-monitoring efforts.
The governor this week signed Senate Bill 1164, which provides immunity for Good Samaritans who report a suspected drug overdose to authorities. It includes a provision allowing firefighters and police to carry naloxone, an anti-overdose drug that can counteract the effect of narcotics.
The state House on Tuesday is set to debate Senate Bill 1180, which creates a database of prescriptions that will curb so-called “doctor shopping” — when patients obtain the same drug from multiple doctors. Many other states use such a database to track drug use.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania opposed the bill, urging lawmakers to rebuff it based on law enforcement access to the database and privacy concerns.
But Gary Tennis, secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said that while tightening regulations for opioids will result in a temporary spike in heroin use, it is the best long-term solution.
“We know they work,” Mr. Tennis said of the databases. “It’s a godsend for the addicted individual who is going from doctor to doctor. It can be a good way to interrupt that pathway to self-destruction.”
The state also has recognized the issue of leftover medications getting into the wrong hands — four in 10 teens who have misused or abused a prescription drug have obtained it from their parents’ medicine cabinet —- with a task force chaired by Mr. Tennis. The prescribing guidelines work group issued recommendations this summer for emergency room doctors and other health practitioners, urging them to limit dosages of opioids when possible.
The recommendations, backed by the Pennsylvania Medical Society, also suggest physicians consider alternative forms of relief for chronic, non-cancer pain -- such as physical therapy and other treatments. Mr. Tennis said the work group plans to publish recommendations for dentists soon.
The state also is giving grant money to counties to install drop-off boxes in police departments where unwanted medicines can be placed, hoping to stem addiction that often starts with curious teens exploring medicine cabinets and ends with them turning to heroin when they no longer can obtain or afford prescription drugs.
Last month, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a directive allowing pharmacies, hospitals and clinics to serve as authorized drop-off sites for unused prescription drugs. Under the new policy, long-term care facilities also will be able to collect controlled substances turned in by residents of those facilities, and prescription drug users everywhere will have permission to mail their unused medications to authorized collectors.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-1159.