A number of state legislatures are considering bills banning synthetic drugs, requiring education for doctors who prescribe opioids, and expanding the use of the drug overdose antidote naloxone this session.
Sherry Green, the CEO of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL), says she is also seeing many state measures devoted to marijuana legislation, and bills that would require doctors and pharmacists to use state prescription monitoring databases.
“We’re seeing bills that ban synthetic marijuana, bath salts and other synthetic drugs by banning classes of substances, with specific examples of the chemical formulations of drugs that would fall into that category,” Green says. “In the past, states tried to ban specific chemical formulations, and drug makers would get around the ban simply by changing a molecule. Under these new measures, if something else in that class is created after the law takes effect, it would already be banned.”
Last fall, NAMSDL organized a meeting of health officials, law enforcement, doctors, state drug directors and others trying to stop the spread of synthetic drugs. NAMSDL has been working with the experts at the meeting to draft model legislation that will be part of a toolbox of legislative options states can use this year.
Some states are considering bills that would require education for opioid prescribers in pain management, addiction treatment and proper prescribing of controlled substances. In addition, some states want to limit the supply of certain controlled substances that doctors can prescribe for pain management. New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among the states that have established task forces on opioids, to take a closer look at how to deal with prescription drug abuse and diversion.
Other topics trending in statehouses around the nation include:
- Prescription monitoring programs (PMPs): Some proposed measures require doctors and/or pharmacists to use the databases to spot patients who are “doctor shopping” for multiple prescriptions. Several states are considering bills that would allow a staff person in a doctor’s office to gather information about patients from the database, to save the doctor time.
- Marijuana legalization: Green anticipates seeing many more bills that would legalize medical marijuana, as well as legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana.
- Naloxone: States are introducing and refining legislation that would allow expanded use of the overdose antidote naloxone. “Some states want to expand who can administer naloxone beyond first responders, to include family members of people who abuse opioids. This requires rewriting laws to allow a prescription for naloxone to be written not for the patient, but for the patient’s parents, even if the patient is an adult,” Green says.
- Good Samaritan laws: These laws grant limited immunity to people who seek help for someone who has overdosed. “States are looking at who should get immunity, and whether Good Samaritans should be shielded from both criminal and civil liability,” Green notes.