House passes bill intended to curb opioid overdose deaths

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, speaks in support of House Bill 159, which is intended to reduce opioid overdose deaths. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The House passed a bill Monday intended to reduce the number of deaths from overdoses of prescription opioids.

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House Bill 159 would cut the number of days’ supply of opioid pills in a single prescription. The vote in favor was 25-8.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Ivy Spohnholz said the bill builds on recommendations from medical experts.

“This bill is allowing us to introduce accountability for the role that prescription opioids have had in our explosive opioid epidemic,” Sphonholz said. “Addressing the opioid epidemic in the state of Alaska is going to take all of us.”

The bill also would require prescribers to receive continuing education in pain management and opioid misuse.

It would allow patients to have advance directives to stop providers from prescribing opioids when the patients are unconscious. And it would require veterinarians who write prescriptions to register with a statewide opioid database.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt said the medical industry and the boards that license providers had a chance to curb unnecessary use of opioids.

“We allowed them that opportunity to make those decisions, and we haven’t seen action take place in the speed that we would like it to,” Pruitt said. “So here we are saying, it’s time for us to address it.”

Opioid prescriptions are generally limited to 30 days. The bill would reduce that to seven days. Doctors and other providers could still provide more for specific reasons, such as for patients who can’t afford to travel to refill their prescriptions.

Every Democrat and Independent member voted in favor of the bill, while Republicans were split.

North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson said lawmakers are in a poor position to dictate to doctors how to do their jobs.

“I’m not a doctor,” Wilson said. “I’m not convinced that seven days is the magic number that’s going to make everything better than what it is.”

The bill is the only legislation that’s not related to the state budget that’s included in the special session that began on May 18.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss the Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 79, on Tuesday.