Legislators support bill to fight opiate, heroin epidemic

State Representatives Whit Betts (R-78) and Cara Pavalock (R-77) and State Senator Henri Martin (R-31) announced their support for the passage of two major bills to address the state’s growing opiate and heroin epidemic.

These bills are: SB 352, An Act Concerning Prescriptions for and the Dispensing of Opioid Antagonists, which would limit first time adult opioid prescriptions for non-chronic pain to a seven day supply and limit all prescriptions for minors to a seven day supply in which case the prescribing practitioner must discus the risks associated with opioids with the minor’s parent or guardian; SB 353, An Act Concerning Opioid Abuse would add members to the Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Policy Council and specify requirements for the council’s state-wide plan, allow for the provision of auricular acupuncture services outside of private, freestanding facilities and to allow primary care providers and licensed alcohol and drug counselors to provide certain services relating to patients’ substance abuse.

The legislature’s Public Health committee voted on the bills this week.

Betts, a member of the legislature’s Public Health Committee stated, according to a press release from General Assembly Republicans, that he voted in favor of the bills during today’s committee meeting, “It seems that daily we see or hear news reports on the growing opioid crisis not only here in Bristol and the surrounding communities, but also across Connecticut and the nation. The number of overdoses and reported deaths continues to rise at a staggering pace with no sign of slowing. It is critical that the legislature act to intervene in this public health crisis with the adoption of these bills and that is why I voted strongly in support of the measures.”

Last week, the release explained, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention advised doctors to refrain from giving opioid prescriptions to patients suffering from non-chronic pain, stating that the risks for such patients include addiction and death. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the press release said, four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers. The majority of people who become addicted to prescription painkillers do not do so intentionally or following the orders of a doctor. In fact, the release reported, according to the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 50.5 percent of people who misused painkillers got them from a friend or relative for free versus 22.1 percent who got them from a doctor.  Experts point to the over-prescribing of opioids – in 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills – as one leading causes of our current crisis, the release said.

“It is equally important in addressing this opiate and heroin epidemic, that lawmakers focus not only on immediate intervention, but also look to strengthen substance abuse treatment and prevention services,” said Pavalock in the press release. “In order to be successful in helping to prevent drug addiction, or relapse among those who are addicted, we must ensure that strong community supports are in place and available for individuals in need of help. There is much work to be done in the fight against opiate and heroin addiction. It is my hope that this will encourage the conversation between doctors and patients about the best course of treatment for people needing pain management and also strengthen prevention and treatment services for those who are struggling with substance abuse.”

If passed, the release said, SB 352 would limit all adult first-time opiate prescriptions to a 7-day supply, representing a groundbreaking development in the fight against prescription drug abuse. The current cap on first time prescriptions in Connecticut is a 30-day supply. This would make Connecticut only the second state in the United States to limit prescriptions to one week for non-chronic pain.

“In Bristol, and throughout the state, we must have a sense of urgency if we are to prevent future tragedies,” said Martin, according to the press release. “These policies are a good start toward a coordinated approach to deal with the terrible problem of overdoses in Connecticut.”

The lawmakers cited a recent report which noted that Bristol EMS personnel are responding to roughly one overdose per day.

According to the state’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill, the news release said, the number of people who have fatally overdosed on heroin or a combination of heroin and other drugs such as fentanyl has dramatically increased in the past three years from 174 in 2012 to 415 in 2015. The number of fatal overdoses on drugs was up from 357 in 2012 to 723 in 2015.

The bill was voted favorably out of the Public Health Committee and referred to the floor, awaiting further action by the legislature.