LA lawmakers consider painkiller Rx limit to combat opioid epidemic

LA lawmakers consider painkiller Rx limit to combat opioid epidemic

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - State lawmakers believe they have found a way to stop the opioid epidemic at one of the sources, but not everyone is on board.

"We have more prescriptions for opioids in the state of Louisiana than we have people. There is clearly a problem," said Rep. Helena Moreno.

The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show in 2015, deaths from prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl reached more than 33,000 in the U.S., which was more than any year on record.

To combat the problem, Moreno introduced HB 192. If passed, it would cap the amount of painkillers doctors can prescribe for patients with acute pain. Chronic pain patients would not be capped.

"If [doctors] feel that their patient with an acute condition should need the medication longer than that, well then they can do that. They just need to note it in [the patient's] chart," Moreno said. "What we are trying to do here and what other states are doing, which are now considered best practices, we're trying to set the tone of let's not give an overabundance of these pills. Let's try to limit it to just for what that patient needs."

Former Acting Assistant Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services Dr. Karen DeSalvo backs Moreno's bill, as does the Louisiana Medical Society.

However, not everyone in the medical field agree with the measure.

"I do get the impression that it's based on the flawed concept that most physicians overwrite opiates, and I don't think that's the case," St. Tammany Parish Coroner Charles Preston said. "We want to make sure that patients are protected in this process and that we're not causing needless suffering."

Preston sees the need for legislative action to combat the epidemic, as 47 people died of opioid overdoses in his parish last year, but he said Morne's bill may not be the right approach. He would like the state to fund substance abuse prevention and rehab programs before telling doctors how to treat patients.

"I think that it's very hard to cookie cutter how you're going to treat populations of patients in a legislative manner," Preston said. "I think that is best left up to the judgment of experienced caring physicians."

Moreno believes action is needed immediately, especially after the number of overdoses outpaced murders in New Orleans last year, and also after police Superintendent Michael Harrison told council members Thursday that the heroin and opioid trade is fueling the city's crime.

"Because so many people are addicted, the market is extremely competitive, and a lot of individuals are competing to corner that market, and they're using violence to compete," Harrison said."

But Preston said lawmakers are on a slippery slope if they plan to use a one-method approach at combating the opioid crisis .

"My major concern is that essentially the legislature is practicing medicine. Albeit with good intent and with a lot of input from bright physicians, but it's very concerning when we begin to legislate the practice of medicine," he said.

Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid, and since 1999, the sale of prescription drugs has quadrupled, according to the CDC.

HB 192 will be introduced on the House floor Tuesday.

Moreno said, at this point, it faces little opposition.

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