Big Win Against Opioid Addiction

For over a decade Bob and Carmen Pack have fought to prevent reckless opioid prescribing after losing their two young children in an accident caused by a driver high on drugs and alcohol. Yesterday, with an 80-0 vote, the California Assembly approved legislation that will begin reversing the opioid overdose epidemic by requiring doctors to check patients’ prescription histories before prescribing.  The bill must still pass a concurrence vote in the Senate, but chances are high that SB 482 will be on its way to Governor Brown for his signature within the week.

Bob said it all to the Mercury News: "I just keep marching slowly forward, for my children. I don't worry about time. If it takes one more year, or 8, or 10 years, I will keep pushing," Pack said. "People can say anything they want (against the bill) -- it's not going to hurt me. I've already been to the lowest depths of hurt. There's nothing anybody could do to make me turn in the other direction."

California loses more people to opioid overdoses than any other state. Reviewing a patient’s prescription history gives doctors the information they need to safely prescribe opioids, manage dependence and prevent abuse. But doctors don't use it when they're not required to. The bill will make sure all California doctors utilize this life-saving tool.

The state of Tennessee, which mandated doctors use their database four years ago, just announced new data about its success in stemming opioid abuse in that state:

  • The number of “doctor shoppers,” patients who seek opioid and other prescriptions from multiple doctors, has decreased more than 50 percent.
  • The average amount of opioid pain relievers prescribed to those receiving them has decreased by 28 percent.
  • In the last three years, there has been a reduction of more than two billion morphine milligram equivalents (aka pill dosages) prescribed across the state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified overprescribing as a central cause of the opioid crisis. The CDC, American Medical Association, California Medical Board, and academic and medical professionals across the country have recommended physicians use prescription databases before prescribing narcotics.  SB 482 implements that recommendation in California.

The driver who killed Troy Pack at 10, and 7 year old Alana, had been recklessly prescribed narcotics by seven different doctors at the same hospital who didn’t check her symptoms or know about her other prescriptions. If any of them had checked her prescription history, the Packs' tragedy may have been averted.  After this loss, Bob Pack’s advocacy spurred creation of the modern CURES prescription database, and he then led the fight in the legislature and at the ballot to ensure doctors use this life-saving tool. And Bob is just one of many parents across the state whose loved ones were lost to opioid addiction and who have organized in support of opioid reform and SB 482.

More can and must be done to ease the stigma of addiction, increase treatment options, and expand patient access to alternative care. But SB 482 will take the first huge leap to stem the flood of opioids that has cost so many lives.

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