Bill would shorten opioid prescriptions

INDIANAPOLIS

Patients who are in need of pain medication may soon find their doctor can only prescribe them for a shorter period of time.

Senate Bill 226, authored by Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, would limit the amount of time a physician can prescribe opioids to minors and first-time adult users to seven days. Opioids are prescribed to patients to relieve pain, and common ones include OxyContin and Vicodin.

Merritt said this would give doctors specific guidelines to follow when prescribing the drugs so everyone would know what the rules are. The Senate Health and Provider Services Committee passed the bill 10-1.

The limit on the number of days opioids can be prescribed is to reduce the amount of prescription drug abuse in Indiana. Gov. Eric Holcomb addressed the issue when he unveiled his legislative agenda in January. He noted that since the year 2000, deaths from drug overdoses have increased by 500 percent and that Indiana is 15th in the country in overdose fatalities.

Supporters said the bill would cut down on the number of unused pills patients, limiting the opioid abuse problem.

“One of the biggest contributors today to this epidemic is the overprescribing of powerful painkillers,” Dr. Jerome Adams, Indiana’s State Health Commissioner, said. “And make no mistake about it, there has been some substantial overprescribing in all areas.”

Adams also noted how the average amount of pills a patient takes following surgery is just 28 percent of the total prescription, leaving the remainder of the pills to go “who knows where?” The United States makes up only five percent of the world’s population, but accounts for 80 percent of the world’s opioid consumption.

“I will humbly submit to all of you senators, that we do not have 80 percent of the world’s pain,” said Adams.

Some were on board with the idea of limiting prescription amounts, but questioned the seven day limit. Dr. Richard Feldman, former Indiana State Health Commissioner and representative of the Indiana Academy of Family Physicians, said he supports the spirit of the bill but finds seven days to be too short of an amount of time.

“We do have some concern about the seven days, and would like to have a little bit more flexibility than seven days,” said Feldman.

Feldman went on to say this is a problem in post-surgery situations, which fall outside of the realm of the type of pain everyone is thinking about. He proposed the limit be set at three weeks to help alleviate those in pain after major surgery.

The lone no vote from the committee was Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, who echoed Feldman’s concerns about the seven days rule.

Merritt was not opposed to amending the bill to address these concerns, calling the bill a “work in progress and process.”