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ICYMI: The Oklahoman: Editorial: Oklahoma opioid panel provides several good ideas

ICYMI: The Oklahoman: Editorial: Oklahoma opioid panel provides several good ideas

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By The Oklahoman Editorial Board | Published: January 28, 2018 12:00 AM

A commission that spent half of last year studying the impact of opioids on Oklahoma produced 31 recommendations for slowing the scourge. It's encouraging that many don't require funding, and those ideas should be pursued with all due haste.

The report released last week by Attorney General Mike Hunter, who led the commission, noted that drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma have increased by 91 percent in the past 15 years. In 2016, there were 899 such deaths in the state, a 68 percent increase from a decade earlier.

Commission members suggested eight specific legislative actions. One is a “Good Samaritan” law granting limited immunity to those who call to report an overdose. Thirty-seven states have such a law, but not Oklahoma. An attempt to pass one in 2017 was killed in committee by a “tough on crime” senator. Another try is planned this year and needs to succeed.

The commission recommended legislation to criminalize the trafficking of fentanyl, a highly powerful synthetic opioid, and legislation mandating that doctors use electronic prescriptions, which are more difficult to forge. Another suggestion is a bill setting maximum quantity limits on first, second and subsequent opioid prescriptions. The commission recommended that medical clinic owners be made to register with the state's drug control agency.

Lawmakers concerned about the state's budget situation shouldn't have heartburn about these proposals, because approval wouldn't drain the treasury.

The 23 recommendations that don't require legislative authorization are aimed at law enforcement, the medical community and other areas. These groups should work to implement these ideas where possible.

One member of the commission, Dr. Layne Subera, an osteopathic physician, noted that getting more primary care doctors to offer medication-assisted treatment — providing patients with methadone or buprenorphine, for example — could improve the state's addiction treatment system.

The commission encourages the mandatory offering of naloxone, which can reverse overdose effects, by prescribers and pharmacists to people receiving their first opioid prescription or those receiving an opioid prescription in addition to a benzodiazepine.

It recommends expanding and improving providers' use of the state's Prescription Monitoring Program, and help from the state's narcotics bureau to alert providers and pharmacists of dangerous prescription combinations or doctor shopping.

The commission wants a statewide database of emergency room discharges, to study overdose events and results of follow-up care. It encourages nursing homes and long-term care facilities to bolster their protocols regarding medication storage and disposal.

Establishing drug courts in the four counties that don't have one is another recommendation. This would require state help, but the investment would be worth it — drug courts enjoy a high rate of success in keeping offenders out of prison and allowing them instead to be productive members of society.

Hunter said opioid abuse had “created a generation of addicts, increased incarceration, ripped families apart, resulted in billions of dollars in lost workplace productivity, and dramatically escalated the demand for treatment and rehabilitation.”

 “Oklahoma is too good of a place to allow this to continue happening,” he said. Hunter's right. His commission offers many good ideas to help change the state's course in this area.