Governor’s opioid bill receives broad support as a first step
There were so many people testifying in support of Gov. Kate Brown’s bill to address Oregon’sopioid epidemic Monday afternoon that Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D Portland, had to repeatedly cut people off to make sure his committee stayed on schedule.
The bill was backed by hospital representatives, recovering addicts, acupuncturists, drug addiction specialists and other lawmakers before the House Health Care Committeereferred it to another committeewithout a vote against it.
The plan outlines three steps the state could take to combat opioid abuse:require the state to study barriers that exist to medication assisted substance abuse treatment;create a peer recovery support program in four counties; and requirepractitioners to register with aprescription drug monitoring program.
Advocates say these are just first steps to addressing a crisis that killed about 250 Oregonians last year and sent many more to the hospital with overdoses.
The governor’s Opioid Epidemic Task Force held its first meeting in September of last year, with only a few months to come up with these proposals. Assuming work continues at the same pace, the 2019 Legislaturemay see more opioid focused legislation.
More: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s legislative priorities: gun violence, opioids, PERS
«This bill is our first, opening shot of a long haul,» said Jeff Rhoades, Brown’s senior policy adviseron opioids.»Part of what we’re doing here is setting up future conversations and part of what we’re doing is addressing it now.»
Apeer recovery support program is the main component of «addressing it now.»
The bill selects four counties Marion, Coos, Jackson and Multnomah to create these programs, which would place individualsin mentorship roles and put them in locations where people who just experienced overdoses are located. Hospitals areone example.
At the hearing, Julia Pinsky from Medford told lawmakers about her son Maxwho, before dying of an overdose, spent the better part of a year in and out of hospitals. He would overdose, she explained, wind up in the emergency room, and sometimes be discovered later that day after overdosing again.
She called the proposed program a «profound step.»
Another step in the bill requires all prescribers participate inthe prescription drug monitoring program.
Prescriptions of certain classes are automatically registered in the programafter distributed from a pharmacy. The system allows doctors to check to see what other prescriptions patients have received in the past.
It is supposed to cut down on the practice of people visiting several physicians and getting prescriptions for powerful medication from each. Of the highest opioid prescribers in the state, about 25 percent aren’t signed up for monitoring, saidState Health Officer Dr. Katrina Hedberg.
«Mandating everybody (participates)makes sense,» she said. «It really makes sense to focus on the higher prescribers.»
More: Oregon police agencies adding opioid overdose antidote to toolbox
But the monitoring prescriptions isn’t a silver bullet. Oregon’s system is more limited than other states in what information can be released, which Hedberg said limits its efficacy to some extent.
The information is dictated by statute, which, when the law was introduced, received significant pushback from groups concerned about patient privacy.
«It would be a lot more helpful for public health if I could answer «what’s the primary reason people are getting this prescription,'» Hedberg said.
The last aspect of the bill is the only onethat raised some issue with lawmakers. It’s the section that directs the state to look into barriers that exist between addicts and a variety of substance abuse treatment programs.
Rep. Knute Buehler, R Bend who’s runningto unseatBrown in November asked why the issues still need to be studied. He stipulated that the barriers are common knowledge and, if they’re known, why not just solve them.
Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran testified that more study is neededto make sure that local solutions were being taken into account. Some of this problem can be solved at the state and national level, she said, but much of it is going to fall to localities discovering systems solutions that work for them.