By Christine Vestal
For governors and lawmakers in nearly every state, the soaring overdose death toll from prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl has become an urgent priority.
Lawmakers in dozens of states took decisive action this year to stanch the flow of prescription pain drugs and help those addicted to them. Roughly 2.5 millionAmericans are addicted to opioids, and more than 28,000 people died of overdoses of painkillers or heroin in 2014, the highest toll ever.
To keep even more people from becoming addicted to medicines such as Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin, lawmakers in five states set limits on the number of pills a physician can prescribe to a patient for the first time. Twenty-nine states beefed up monitoring of filled prescriptions to prevent addicts from “doctor shopping” for more pills.
Sixteen states expanded the use of naloxone, an overdose antidote drug few lawmakers had heard of just a year ago. And at least nine states adopted requirements that Medicaid and other insurers pay for all medically recommended addiction services, just as they would for other diseases, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Among lawmakers, governors and the medical community, there is broad support for measures aimed at rescuing people from fatal overdoses, providing more addiction treatment options and keeping highly addictive opioid pain medicines out of the hands of those who might abuse them. More doctors and patients are beginning to eschew opioids for alternatives such as anti-inflammatory medications, exercise, physical therapy, acupuncture and psychotherapy.
But the new laws are not without controversy. In several Northeast states, doctors are balking at new limits on the number of pills hospital emergency departments, physicians, dentists or nurses can prescribe for acute pain. Prominent medical groups, including the American Medical Association, argue that doctors and patients, rather than lawmakers, should be able to balance the need for pain relief against the risk of addiction in individual cases. [Read more…]