Governor signs new law aimed at opioid abuse, St. Tammany coroner calls the law problematic

Governor signs new law aimed at opioid abuse; St. Tammany coroner calls the law problematic

ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LA (WVUE) - It's an epidemic that has a tight grip on the nation as a whole, and Louisiana has not been immune.

Opioid drug abuse continues to claim lives, but state government is fighting back. However, the coroner for St. Tammany Parish believes the new law is problematic.

"From 2014 to 2015, Louisiana had a 12 percent increase in deaths related to opioid overdose," said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

House Bill 192 is now state law after bring signed by Edwards Monday afternoon.

"The reason why it passed is because doctors helped to write this bill," said lead bill sponsor Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans.

It requires doctors when issuing a first-time opioid prescription for outpatient use to an adult patients with an acute condition to limit the amount of the drug to a seven-day supply.

"It's so that it prevents going to let's say your doctor for a minor procedure and getting a 30-day supply of Percocet or another type of opioid that's going to remain in your cabinet and not going to be used by you, but maybe get into the wrong hands or maybe you'll take too many of those pills," said Moreno

"I want to applaud Helena Moreno's effort to shine light on to the problem of opiate addiction, it certainly is a problem throughout the United States, and it needs to be paid attention to, but I think that that  law is going to be most symbolic," said Coroner Charles Preston.

He said while it's a serious problem, most people who take prescribed opiates do not head down the path to illicit drugs like heroin.

"When you look at the numbers involved, about four percent of people who misuse opiates will go on to use heroin. Of all the opiate prescriptions written, between four percent and 13 percent will misuse them," said Preston.

The National Institute of Health defines opioids as a class of drugs that include Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Codeine, and Morphine, and the synthetic opioid Fentanyl, as well as the opiate heroin derived from opium poppy seeds.

The new law has some leeway. If a medical professional believes more than a seven-day supply is needed for an acute medical condition, or for the treatment of chronic pain associated with cancer or palliative care, the practitioner may issue a prescription for the quantity needed and would be required to document why in the patient's medical record.

Dr. Preston likes that part of the law.

"I think that's an important caveat in the law because it will allow certain conditions to be treated for a longer period of time," he said

Still he thinks some patients with pain who have gone through their seven-day supply of medication may be forced to suffer until they can get another appointment with their physician, which can take time.

"It may be difficult to get follow-up," he said.

Dr. Preston also thinks language in the new law could cause some problems for pharmacists.

"I think it is going to be somewhat impractical. I've spoken to some pharmacists who have indicated that their dispensing software will not allow them to do a partial fill and then come back later and complete the fill," Preston said.

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