HB50 Bill to fight opioid deaths in Utah

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Since 2000 the number of deaths per year from opioid overdose has increased from 60 to 300. (Chuck Dearden)

The Utah Senate is considering a bill that would fight the prevalence of opioid overdose deaths, which has quintupled since 2000, after it passed in the House.

Sixty people died from prescription opioids in 2000, and 300 people died from the same cause in 2014.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, the bill’s floor sponsor, said he hopes the bill can help reverse this trend.

The originating sponsor of HB50, Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Davis, said those deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many problems that arise from opioid abuse and addiction.

Prescription drug abuse can result in slower brain activity and seizures among other serious health concerns, according to the Utah Health Department.

Ward is a family physician and said he sees a lot of dependence on opioids in his patients.

In a press release from March 2014, the Center for Disease Control named doctors as a leading source of opioids for high-risk users.

“Health care providers need to screen for abuse risk and prescribe judiciously,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in the press release.

BYU professor Gordon Lindsay specializes in substance abuse and agrees that doctors, especially those in Utah, are often too liberal with writing prescriptions.

He said ideally this problem would not be handled with legislation, but it is worth exploring the options.

“I support major reductions but am not sure if this is the way to do it,” Lindsay said. “But I do agree with the objective.”

HB50 only applies to prescriptions meant for short-term use, so they can only be filled for seven days at a time, rather than the federal standard of 30 days.

“We want patients that need the medication with their condition to have access to those meds,” Vickers said. “They still will under this bill, but it does implement guidelines that if followed would have a physician prescribe a lesser amount than maybe they normally would.”

If this bill is passed, Ward hopes doctors prescribing opioids will change their habits in prescribing, patients will expect less prescriptions and the community as a whole will be more aware of how dangerous opioids are.

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