A Georgia state bill requiring healthcare providers to log opioid prescriptions in a state database passed a committee vote last week. The bill would make healthcare providers criminally liable for failing to keep track of the opioid prescriptions they write. It would also make naloxone, an opioid antagonist that can reverse an overdose, available over the counter.
Nationwide, there were more than 22,000 deaths involving prescription opioids in 2015—with 549 in Georgia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That year, there were 7.8 million opioid painkiller prescriptions written in Georgia. The goal of the legislation, said state Sen. Renee Unterman, the bill's co-author, is to “curb the tide and raise awareness” of opioid addiction.
Georgia currently has a voluntary database in which healthcare providers can enter opioid prescriptions. If passed, the bill would make database use mandatory. Failure to record a prescription within 24 hours of writing it would carry a prison sentence of between one to five years, a fine of up to $50,000, or both.
Prescribers would also be required to consult the database whenever they prescribe a Schedule II, III, IV or V drug to a patient for the first time and every 90 days after, if they keep prescribing the patient the drug. There would be certain exemptions, such as when the patient is terminally ill, is in addiction treatment and being given methadone or buprenorphine, or if the prescription is for a supply lasting three days or less and without refills.
The bill also limits the amount a provider can prescribe in the first prescription to five days.
Unterman said the biggest pushback has come from physicians, who, she said, think using the database would take away too much of their time. But, she says, “when you have a mother who comes to you and says her 25-year-old son died of a heroin overdose that started with an opioid prescription addiction, that pretty much validates that you need to get providers on board.”
But doctors have expressed concern about the severity of the bill.
What if a doctor, in the midst of a crisis, simply forgets to make an entry in the database?, wondered Dr. Ben Watson, a Republican state Senator in Georgia who voted against the bill. In that case, he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the physician should be referred to the state medical board, rather than being dealt with by the law.
If the bill passes the Georgia state Senate, it will go onto the House, first for any changes and then for a vote.