Governor signs several bills to combat opioid crisis

The 19-member special legislative commission to study the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana in Rhode Island recently appointed its members.
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PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — On Monday, at a ceremonial bill signing held at the Providence Center-Recovery Navigation Program, Governor Gina Raimondo signed several bills into law that will help combat the state’s opioid crisis. 

In attendance at the ceremony were the legislative sponsors of the five bills and Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.

The first piece of legislation (2017-H 5738 / 2017-S 0812) signed relates to the classification of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids within the list of uniform controlled substances, as it includes fentanyl analogs and synthetic opioids into Schedule I and Schedule II of the list of uniform controlled substances.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) and Sen. Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket).

“Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are killing Rhode Islanders at an alarming rate, and we must codify in law how devastating and deadly these new substances are that are flooding into our borders,” said Representative Canario.

“The fentanyl epidemic is getting more serious by the day, and too many people are dying due to fentanyl infecting Rhode Island’s illicit drug supply. This troubling phenomenon is fairly new, and that is why we must amend the Uniform Controlled Substances Act to include fentanyl and other synthetic opioids as the dangerous and deadly substances that they are,” said Senator Crowley.

The second piece of legislation (2017-H 5517A / 2017-S 0805A), sponsored by Rep. Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence) and Senator Crowley, brings the penalties for possession, manufacturing or selling fentanyl in line with those for heroin and cocaine. The bill sets a maximum penalty for amounts between one ounce and one kilogram at up to 50 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. It would make possession of any amount over one kilogram punishable by as much as a life term and fine of up to $1 million.

“Ask any police officer, firefighter, EMT, or emergency room doctor or nurse what the greatest danger they see on a daily basis and they will tell you fentanyl. Far more potent than heroin or any other opiate, fentanyl is killing our family members, friends, and neighbors at an alarming rate and something must be done to end this scourge of death. Fentanyl and the people distributing it are killing Rhode Islanders. Our laws must treat it like the serious menace that it is. Life in prison is not too much for someone who is profiting from selling something this lethal. The price its victims are paying is much steeper,” said Representative Corvese.

The third piece of legislation (2017-S 0789Aaa / 2017-H 6124Aaa), introduced by Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston) and Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence), requires insurance reimbursement for chiropractic and osteopathic non-opioid treatments for pain. The legislation states that patients with substance use disorders shall have access to evidence-based non-opioid treatment for pain. In turn, insurance coverage will be required for medically necessary chiropractic care and osteopathic manipulative treatment performed by licensed individuals.

“With the opioid crisis worsening every day, it is imperative that insurance companies cover alternate and effective treatments for chronic pain, especially in the case of patients with substance use problems,” said Senator Lombardo.

“It is no secret that opioids have been over prescribed in our state and that has led to a health epidemic. For many patients, particularly those with substance abuse problems, opioids are the wrong choice to manage pain. This bill will ensure that other proven treatments for pain are covered by insurance, hopefully lessening the impact of opioid abuse in our state,” said Representative Amore.

The fourth piece of legislation (2017-H 5975A / 2017-S 0546aa), introduced by Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) and Senator Crowley, makes the electronic transmission of pharmaceuticals the standard in Rhode Island. The legislation also provides for protection of patient privacy in regard to electronic prescriptions.

“Currently, the law provides physicians with the option of transmitting prescriptions electronically. This legislation makes it standard. E-prescribing significantly reduces pharmacy errors and fraudulent prescriptions,” said Representative Ackerman. “This is important legislation for improving patient care and safety. We put a three-year timeframe into the bill, which gives plenty of time for the medical community to convert their systems.”

The final piece of legislation (2017-S 0493A / 2017-H 6307) signed today, sponsored by Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston) and Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence), requires health care professionals to discuss the dangers of opioid addiction before prescribing the medication.

“We’re battling a lethal epidemic that is killing more people a year than motor vehicle crashes,” said Senator Archambault. “More than 52,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2015 — and 63 percent of those deaths involved an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“This legislation will go a long way toward easing the epidemic of opioid addiction,” said Representative Diaz. “Many people become addicted to opioids that were legitimately prescribed. That, coupled with the expense, has made this a major health crisis. The total annual costs associated with prescription opioid abuse was estimated at $55 billion in a study published in Pain Medicine in 2011.”

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