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New Law Restricts Opioid Prescriptions

June 30, 2016

News Malloy Opioid Bill 

One week after New Haven declared a public health emergency when 17 people overdosed on a powerful opioid obtained illegally, a new state law now limits initial opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply and tightens the way pharmacies report controlled-substance prescriptions.

The law, effective July 1, also requires first-responders to carry the overdose-reversing drug naloxone (Narcan) and the state’s Alcohol and Drug Policy Council to develop a plan to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths in the state.

The provisions of the new legislation, signed into law in late May by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (shown above), represent the state’s response to an epidemic with more than 400 deaths in 2015 from overdoses primarily involving heroin. An additional 500 deaths last year were attributed to accidental drug-induced intoxication involving prescription opioids such as oxycodone, Percocet, hydrocodone, Vicodin and fentanyl.

Fentanyl, a synthetic drug up to 50 times more potent than heroin, was believed to be the cause of three deaths and 17 overdoses in New Haven reported within a matter of hours last month. (It’s the same drug that toxicology tests showed killed Prince in April.)

“Our nation is facing a prescription painkiller and heroin overdose epidemic,” says Malloy. “Connecticut is not immune.”

Dr. Craig Allen, Rushford’s medical director, notes the relationship between the heroin deaths and the increasing use of opioids.

“There is a very unfortunate, but common progression from prescription opioid analgesic abuse to heroin use,” he says, “that occurs when someone becomes dependent or is misusing the analgesic medication and, as their tolerance increases may need to seek other sources for it.”

Those other sources can include doctor-shopping, when people go from doctor to doctor or emergency room to emergency room for prescriptions. People also seek opioids from friends, relatives or street sellers.

“As the cost of the prescription medications becomes unmanageable,” says Dr. Allen, “and with heroin being much less expensive and easily available and increasingly potent this becomes the drug of choice. However, in Connecticut, it is not uncommon for people to be using both or to switch back and forth.”

Restricting opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply is expected to reduce the illegal use of the drugs. In most cases, says Allen, a seven-day supply is sufficient.

“Research shows that three to five days for opioid analgesic pain medications is generally enough for a surgical procedure,” he says.

Pharmacies are now required to report controlled-substance prescriptions no more than 24 hours after they are dispensed. A prescriber must review a patient’s prescription record in the state’s electronic monitoring program before prescribing a controlled substance with more than a 72-hour supply.

Such programs updated more frequently have been associated with a greater reduction in opioid-related deaths, according to Vanderbilt University researchers.

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