Lawmakers look for agreement in opioid battle

(The News Service of Florida)

Lawmakers continued to negotiate the terms of opioid legislation Wednesday, with the Senate standing firm in its position that insurance companies should not put obstacles in the way of medication-assisted therapy.

The Senate passed a House opioids bill (HB 21) but tagged on an amendment that includes appropriating $54.5 million for such things as outpatient and residential treatment. It also would ban insurers and HMOs from using prior authorization or “step therapy” or making other requirements as a prerequisite to the use of medication-assisted therapy in treating substance abuse.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Wednesday night that the bill tackles the state’s growing opioid problem like the public health crisis that it is.

“For men and women who come forward and have an addiction who want help, they want to turn their lives around, they want to go back to work and be with their families ... that should be treated as a public health issue, and I think this bill goes a long way toward that,” Negron said..

The original House bill did not have the medication-assisted treatment language, and it remains an issue the two chambers must hammer out before the 2018 legislative session ends in the coming days.

The centerpiece of the bill, however, may be a three-day limit on prescriptions for treatment of acute pain. Physicians could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if deemed medically necessary.

The Senate agreed with the House to exempt from the prescription limits cancer patients, people who are terminally ill, palliative care patients and those who suffer from major trauma. The bill also would require physicians or their staff members to check with a statewide database before prescribing or dispensing drugs.

As amended, the bill would earmark $991,000 for improvements to the database, known as the prescription drug monitoring program, so that it can interface with physicians’ offices and electronic health records used by doctors.

The bill, proponents of opioid limits say, will go a long way toward helping the state curb the use of opioids, which are narcotic painkillers that have caused widespread overdoses.

In 2016, heroin caused 952 deaths in Florida, fentanyl caused 1,390 deaths, oxycodone caused 723 deaths, and hydrocodone caused 245 deaths. Those statistics led Gov. Rick Scott in May 2017 to declare a state of emergency.

The $54.5 million in funding is a slight increase from an original Senate proposal of $53 million. Negron said the chambers haven’t finalized the opioid funding and that the amount of money could still increase. That would be good, said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“My thoughts are $53 million is a great start for this year, but we need much more to combat that crisis overall,” she said.

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