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Reports of Rising Opioid Overdoses Push Lawmakers to Craft Legislation Targeting Drugs

Legislation by a host of California lawmakers, on the heels of a report of massive drug overdoses involving synthetic opioids including fentanyl, could potentially curb deaths in the state in the future, says the former president of a state physicians organization.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that last year an estimated 72,000 people died from an overdose of drugs that contained fentanyl.

According to the California Department of Public Health, there were 1,882 opioid-related overdoses and 378 fentanyl-related deaths in 2017 in the state, a 57 percent increase from 2016.

In Los Angeles County, there were 342 deaths associated with opioid abuse last year, 759 emergency room visits due to an overdose of opioids and 610 hospitalizations.

Assemblyman Evan Lowe (D-San Jose) is sponsoring Assembly Bill 1752, which would add medicines that contain opioids, such as Robitussin AC, Lomotil and Lyrica, to the list of drugs and medications required by federal law to be reported to the Department of Justice’s Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database. AB 1752 also would require a dispensing pharmacy, clinic or other dispenser to report the information to the database no more than one working day after a controlled substance is dispensed.

“We strongly believe that CURES can be a helpful tool in identifying and tracking controlled substance misuse, including opioid abuse. But the database must be reliable, protect patient privacy, and be technically capable of handling the large number of users and data requests,” wrote Dr. Karen Sibert, past president of the California Society of Anesthesiologists in an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News.

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina del Rey) has sponsored legislation that would limit prescriptions of opioids for minors to a five-day supply for acute pain management.

“As a legislator and a mother, it is imperative to protect our children from addiction before it has a chance to start,” Burke said in a statement about Assembly Bill 2741. “Forty percent of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription, and over 120,000 addicts are under the age of 21.

“This is an insidious crisis which compels us to take action,” Burke said.

Exceptions to the Protecting Children From Opioid Addiction Act would include hospice and palliative care patients, cancer patients and individuals who are being treated for substance abuse disorders.

Assembly Bill 2256 by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) would authorize a pharmacy, wholesaler, or manufacturer to supply naloxone hydrochloride or other substances that counteract opioids to a law enforcement agency for use by employees of the law enforcement agency who have completed training in administering them.

“I’m proud to join my colleagues as we work toward bipartisan, comprehensive solutions that will protect families from tragedies,” Burke added.

Despite the bump in overdoses in the Golden State, California is much better off regarding opioid-related deaths than most other states. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2016 there were 2,012 opioid-related overdose deaths — a rate of 4.9 deaths per 100,000 persons in California — versus the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000 persons.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates a full 80 percent of all users arrive at heroin after abusing opioid painkillers.

And according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly half of young people who inject heroin reported abusing prescription opioids before turning to heroin.

Burke, who authored an anti–child poverty law last year, said parts of the state could soon be facing an opioid prescription epidemic.

“Our communities are saturated with an excess of opioid prescriptions; in some cities and towns of California, the amount of opioid prescriptions outnumbers the population,” she noted.

AB 2741 is currently waiting a vote in the state Senate, AB 2256 is in the process of being prepared for delivery to Gov. Jerry Brown and AB 1752 is still being considered in the Assembly.

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