Sunday, March 18, 2018

Senate health panel OKs 4 opioid bills; 3 quickly pass Senate

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Four of the seven bills that passed out of the March 14 Senate Health and Welfare Committee meeting dealt with opioids, and three of them have already passed out of the Senate.

A bill for safe disposal of unused opioids passed quickly out of the committee by a 9-1 vote and passed the full Senate later the same day on a vote of 34-2.  It now goes to the House.

Senate Bill 6 had been pulled off the floor and sent back to committee March 13, prompting sponsor Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, to say it was delayed in retaliation for her refusal to vote for the controversial public-pension bill. Senate leaders told Deborah Yetter of the Louisville Courier Journal that the bill needed a "technical revision."

The bill would require pharmacists to inform customers about how to safely dispose of unused opioids and other controlled substances, and offer to sell them a product designed to neutralize drugs for disposal. The committee added fines of $25 for a first offense, $100 for a second violation and $200 for each subsequent violation and a provision that Medicaid would not pay for the disposal aid.

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, cast the only no vote in committee. He said he supported the idea but had too many concerns about who would bear that cost. He also voted no on the Senate floor, along with Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder.

Explaining his yes vote, Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said, "This is something that we need to move on. Something that we should not play politics with because the people who are affected don't care about Republicans and Democrats." Thomas is running for Congress.

Rep. Addia Wuchner, chair of the House Health and Family Services Committee, saw two of her opioid bills pass out of the Senate committee, and one of them is awaiting posting for House concurrence in a Senate amendment.

House Bill 148 would shift ownership of controlled substances from a deceased hospice patient to the hospice program for disposal. Such drugs now go to estates.

The bill would require hospice and other palliative-care agencies to have written policies and procedures for getting rid of certain painkillers upon the death of the patient. The policy would be reviewed with patients and their families, who would then be asked to agree to the policy in writing. The disposal of the drugs would be completed by the agency or the person pronouncing death and would be witnessed by an adult, who would sign a statement to the fact.

Families who do not agree would be reported to the local health department or local law enforcement.

Wuchner, R-Florence, told the committee that the bill is not meant to threaten families at a time of loss, but to stress the importance of the need to destroy the drugs. It went to the Senate floor without dissent.

House Bill 124 unanimously passed the health committee and the full Senate. It calls for a comprehensive review of all state programs for substance-use disorders, and would require the state to only pay for and license ones that follow nationally recognized, evidence-based protocols.

The Senate added an amendment to allow the Department of Corrections to purchase long-acting, medication-assisted treatment products for substance-use disorders that are resistant to diversion, including unspecified new ones not yet available.

Senate Bill 250 also unanimously passed out of the health committee and the full Senate and will now move to the House. It would require all pregnant women to be tested for hepatitis C, with the results added to the child’s records. It also recommends that the child be tested at 24 months if the mother tests positive. Hepatitis C can be transmitted from mother to baby during childbirth.

Riggs Lewis, system vice president of heath policy at Norton Healthcare, stressed the importance of screening every pregnant woman in order to be able to treat both the mother and baby. He noted that most new cases of hepatitis C are a result of illegal intravenous drug use, so cases are expected to increase. "This is going to be a shadow that follows the opioid epidemic," he said.

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