Curbing the opioid epidemic is one of the most significant public health challenges facing Rhode Island and the nation today. A Washington Post investigation recently reported that Rhode Island was one of the first places in the country to identify the start of the surge of overdose deaths from the synthetic opioid fentanyl back in 2013. Even before then, lawmakers, policymakers, medical professionals and community leaders were working hard to stop opioid addiction from devastating the lives of Rhode Islanders.
We have been working collaboratively to identify every possible contributing factor and implement every solution we can find to address this very complex crisis. To that end, last year, I submitted two pieces legislation which are now law. One gives patients the option of only partially filling their prescription for painkillers, and the second established a procedure for individuals to file a revocable, voluntary non-opiate directive form with their doctor, indicating that the patient does not want to be administered or offered a prescription for an opiate.
We are making headway – recent figures show Rhode Island is experiencing fewer overdose deaths – but we still have much work to do to put an end to this devastating epidemic.
This year, I have introduced two new bills to prevent addiction in the first place and to ensure that nothing stands in the way of an overdose victim getting the help they need in an emergency.
The first bill (2019-H 5537) would limit prescriptions for opiates to a seven-day supply when prescribed for the first time to adults, and every time for patients under 18. The bill provides exceptions for treatment related to cancer and other serious conditions, as well as medications designed to treat substance abuse or dependence.
Many of those who experience opioid dependence begin with a prescription they receive after a surgery or to treat a painful condition. Setting a seven-day limit on first-time prescriptions will allow people the pain relief they need after surgeries and other treatments, while preventing overuse of these highly addictive drugs.
The second bill (2019-H 5536) would add law enforcement and emergency medical personnel to the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, which protects them from civil or criminal liability arising from helping a person they believe is overdosing.
Many police and EMTs in the state are equipped with kits for administering naloxone – the opioid-overdose antidote commonly known by its trade name, Narcan. In fact, a change made to the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act last year allows them to distribute naloxone kits to at-risk individuals or their families or friends so they are equipped in case of an overdose. But the law did not specifically shield them for liability for administering or distributing the drug. This bill would provide that protection, as long as they act in good faith. It would also protect officers and agencies participating in the Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE).
Both bills have been assigned to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare and I am optimistic that they will be supported by my colleagues as well as those who work on the front lines battling the opioid epidemic in Rhode Island.
If you would like to discuss these two bills, or have any other questions about legislation this session, I hope you won’t hesitate to contact me.
Thank you. Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat representing District 15 in Cranston, is speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.