Monday, March 19, 2018

Article: Legislature considers raft of opioid bills

From GJ Sentinel
March 18, 2018
By Charles Ashby

DENVER — Measures designed to crack down on the state's opioid abuse problem made some headway in the Colorado House last week, while a new bill has emerged that is designed to help even more.

Most of the bills the Colorado Legislature is considering stem from last summer's special committee examining the state's opioid epidemic. Many of those measures primarily deal with how patients get pain-killing medications.

A new measure, HB1279, didn't come from the committee, but proponents say its goal is the same.

It calls on all providers, from dentists to doctors, to prescribe opioids only electronically to pharmacies, preventing addicted patients from falsifying written prescriptions to get those pain medications, which are considered controlled substances.

That bill, which some physician groups oppose, is to be heard in the House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee later this month.

Meanwhile, the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee approved three opioid measures last week, all on bipartisan votes. They include:

■ HB1003, creating a special legislative committee to continue to study the state's substance abuse problem, and find ways to address it more than what currently is being done.

■ HB1007, requiring insurance providers and the state's Medicaid program to provide faster approval of alternative medications for those addicted to opioids.

■ HB1136, expanding Medicaid coverage of residential and inpatient substance abuse treatment programs for opioid-addicted patients.

"There are scores of families living the same struggle, fighting the same fight and right now most of us are losing," said Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, who introduced several of the bills. "We have a 500 percent increase in heroin abuse, and it's people who started off with prescription drugs. We are facing a public health crisis, and we worked for months to come up with a package (of bills) to address this epidemic."

Two other measures also working their way through the process include SB22, which cleared the Colorado Senate late last month. It would limit how many pills a practitioner can prescribe for first-time opioid users between patient visits in an attempt to prevent them from getting addicted to the pain killers in the first place.

Finally, SB24 is designed to help providers create treatment programs around the state where there are no or few services. That measure, which awaits approval in the Senate Appropriations Committee because of its $2.5 million price tag, would provide loan payments to train people to work in the new treatment centers.

Only two residential treatment programs exist in the region. They are located in Grand Junction and are operated by the Grand Junction Salvation Army and Mind Springs Health.

A sixth measure had been recommended by the opioid committee to create a pilot treatment program in Denver, but it was killed last month.