State opioid commission nearing finalization of policy recommendations

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Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier.

As the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse wrapped up its final meeting of 2017, Attorney General Mike Hunter said he is “optimistic” the state was nearing a turnaround from its deadly prescription drug epidemic.

But there is still work to do.

The commission is in the final stages of crafting a list of recommendations to help curb the abuse of prescription drugs in the state, and on Tuesday met for a day-long session at the state Capitol in which it heard testimony from doctors, state health and treatment officials and other stakeholders.

The commission, headed by Hunter, will meet one final time before finalizing a set of policy recommendations. The commission hopes to have the proposals finalized by Jan. 18 — the Legislature’s bill filing deadline for the 2018 session, Hunter said.

The commission’s top recommendations thus far include:

  • Criminalizing the trafficking of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that has caused opioid overdose deaths around the county and in Oklahoma to spike.
  • Mandating e-prescribing (replacing handwritten, faxed or phoned prescriptions) for all prescriptions classified by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II controlled dangerous substance (which includes many opioid prescription drugs).
  • Creating a “Good Samaritan law” that would provide limited immunity from prosecution for overdose victims and people who call emergency responders to save an overdose victim.
  • Changing a Drug Enforcement Administration rule that limits the amount of patients that can be seen by a physician during their first year of practicing opioid dependency treatment and prescribing buprenorphine, a drug often used to help treat opioid addiction. Current rules limit the number of patients for physicians who have received the DEA waiver to 30 at any one time during the first year and 100 after that.

The commission on Tuesday also discussed several other proposals that it may include in its final recommendations that fell under the categories of enforcement, investigation, tracking and monitoring as well as prescribers, pharmacists and education.

Among those ideas were plans to adopt a real-time mapping tool for drug overdoses, to increase penalties for registrants of the Prescription Monitoring Program who divert drugs, as well as several measures to increase monitoring, reporting and security for drugs in nursing home settings.

The commission’s final meeting has not yet been scheduled, but other categories of issues it will take up during that meeting include prevention and community education, treatment and rehabilitation, and drug addicted children.

“I think we made good progress today,” Hunter said Tuesday. “I’m optimistic that our proposals will get turned into legislation, work their way through the Legislature and get signed by the Governor.”

Hunter said the state has begun to see a reversal of some trends, such as number of opioid deaths, in the past year thanks to some measures like the Prescription Monitoring Program already in place, but that are still many issues that need addressing and the opioid overdose and death rate are still among the highest in the nation.

Earlier this year, Hunter filed a civil suit against several opioid manufacturing companies in Cleveland County District Court, alleging the companies fraudulently marketed opioids to doctors to prescribe to patients, overstating their safety and understanding their potential for addiction.

“The state hasn’t been sitting on its hands,” Hunter said. “The challenge is how we accelerate that, build on what we have done to abate what has happened over the past few years. This commission is building on what we’re doing already.”

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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