Editor’s Note: This is part of a team report on opioid use by injured workers. For the national story read: Opioid Epidemic Plagues Workers’ Comp
Deaths from prescription drug overdoses jumped 360 percent in the last decade in the Appalachian region of the U.S., according to experts at the Center for Clinical and Translation Science. The Appalachian region is a 205,000-square-mile area that spans several southeastern states. As a result of this growing epidemic, many states in the Southeast proposed new legislation that addresses myriad issues that foster prescription drug abuse.
Several states focused on pain management clinics to prevent them from becoming so-called “pill mills”.
Taking action in 2011, Florida cracked down on pain clinics, known as “pill mills”, and prohibited physicians from dispensing Schedule II and III drugs, except in limited instances.
“They’ve [Florida] historically had a big problem with pill mills, where you can go in and get pills, not necessarily for legitimate reasons, and the reason why people go in to get the pills is so that they can resell them on the street,” said Mark Pew, senior vice president of business development for PRIUM.
Other bills currently pending in the state’s legislature would require physicians who prescribe narcotics to consult the state’s prescription drug monitoring program and require owners of pain management clinics to be licensed physicians.
Legislation in Alabama and Georgia also seeks to clamp down on pain management clinics.
The Georgia Pain Management Clinic Act mandates licensing of pain clinics as of July, 2013. The act would prohibit doctors, nurses, and physician’s assistants from prescribing long-acting opioid painkillers in emergency rooms. The bill would also prohibit doctors, nurses and physician’s assistants in emergency rooms from refilling prescriptions for opioid painkillers that have been lost, stolen or destroyed.
According to Gov. Nathan Dalton, there were just 10 pain clinics in the state a few years ago, but that number rose to 125 as surrounding states sought to remove the “pill mills”.
“We know this process works, because we can observe the successes that have happened around us. When Florida enacted tougher laws, the number of pain clinics there dropped dramatically, as did deaths from oxycodone and hydrocodone. I hope to see similar results in Georgia,” Deal said.
And while Georgia, Florida and Alabama considered tightened restrictions on pain management clinics, a joint bill prohibiting pain management clinics from dispensing controlled substances failed in Tennessee.
Though several opioid and prescription abuse bills failed in West Virginia, one is still pending governor review. The bill would create the Unintentional Pharmaceutical Drug Overdose Fatality Review Team under the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
In North Carolina, a bill was passed that provides civil and criminal immunity to doctors who prescribe opioid antagonists to address overdoses.
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