California took a huge step forward to curb opiate abuse this week when Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 482, which requires doctors to be more accountable for dangerous drugs they give out with a new data reporting system.
The new law has been a long time coming for the Pack family, who had two of their young children murdered by an intoxicated driver in 2003. Two of Pack’s three children, Troy and Alana, were walking on the sidewalk on their way to get ice cream when they were hit and killed by a woman high on Vicodin. “I know that this is so meaningful for so many families that also have been harmed when they lost a relative or a child due to drug overdoses,’’ Mr. Pack said to The East Bay Times. Reports say the woman behind the wheel got her prescriptions from six different doctors.
Mr. Pack pushed for the preventative measures and the bill, authored by State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens); the bill was also sponsored by the Consumer Attorneys of California and the California Narcotics Officers. The opioid and heroin epidemic has only gotten worse since then. A 2013 CDC analysis found that drug overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010 and prescription drugs, particularly opioid analgesics, are the top drugs leading the list of those responsible for fatalities. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 44 people die every day from an overdose of prescription drugs. Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by opioid pain relievers.
State Sen. Lara’s bill acknowledges that a law addressing the serious and deadly problem in his state is long overdue. “While California was the first state to create a drug monitoring system, it has lagged behind others in realizing the full potential of its system,” writes Lara within the bill. New York and Tennessee, for example, have required prescribers to check their respective state drug monitoring systems and have seen dramatic decreases in drug overdoses and deaths.
California law now requires a drug prescription for a controlled substance, under the Controlled Substances Act, to be issued for a “legitimate medical purpose and establishes responsibility for proper prescribing on the prescribing practitioner.” The law also implements new punishments for violators. Failure for registered doctors to check the patient database for past prescriptions could face imprisonment for up to one year or a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
The database is called The Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES), and it’s managed by the Department of Justice. Some of the specifics of the new law in California include:
- Requiring special prescription forms for controlled substances to be obtained from security printers approved by DOJ.
- Establishing the Controlled Substances Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) for electronic monitoring of Schedule II, III and IV controlled substance prescriptions.
- The CURES provides for the electronic transmission of Schedule II, III and IV controlled substance prescription information to the Department of Justice (DOJ) at the time prescriptions are dispensed.
In 2014, a record high of nearly 18,900 Americans died from prescription painkiller overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opiate addiction and abuse has garnered a lot of national attention in the past few months. Just last week, President Obama established a “Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.” The FBI and DEA followed in suit with an educational film on the risks of addiction. In March, the CDC also issued new guidelines for prescribing opiates.
The conversation on opioid abuse in America almost always mentions another popular drug in America – cannabis. In this California bill regarding opiate misuse and prevention is a baseless government statistic that points to marijuana as the nation’s largest “illegal drug problem.”
As it is written in the bill’s language: “Federal data for 2014 shows that in the past year, abuse of prescription painkillers now ranks second, just behind marijuana, as the nation’s most widespread illegal drug problem.”
Without context or explanation, this convenient demonization of the controversial plant buried deep within the bill only amplifies the government anti-pot propaganda messaging. Another example of anti-pot propaganda is the new FBI and DEA sponsored film that calls marijuana a gateway drug, despite evidence to the contrary. The film is called Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict” and it features interviews with former addicts and those serving time in jail for bad decisions they made in order to get their fix. The opioid issue and the marijuana conversation are not interchangeable, as cannabis is not an opiate, scientifically speaking. Inserting cannabis into the opiate conversation, without any context, is comparing apples to oranges.
The head of the Department of Justice agrees, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said marijuana is not a gateway drug. “When you look at someone that, for example, has a heroin problem, it very often started with a prescription drug problem. Something totally legal,” she said to an audience in Kentucky, “Something in every medicine cabinet. Something you can have prescribed to you in good faith by a doctor.”
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The California CURES bill further reads that if there are concerns, prescribers and pharmacists should — but are not required to — consult the system when prescribing or dispensing. The bill recognizes the possible loophole and recommends that “In order to eliminate doctor shopping and minimize the over prescription of narcotics, it is critical prescribers and dispensers use CURES every time they write or dispense a new prescription.”
Overall, the bill aims to remind doctors that checking the database will ultimately improve public health and will identify and stop a lot of the Californians from dying of a drug overdose.