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No major opposition to opioid plan appears in Arizona Legislature

(Flickr/Ted Eytan)

PHOENIX — No major opposition appeared Tuesday as the Arizona Legislature began considering a proposal from Gov. Doug Ducey designed to cut down on addiction and deaths from prescription painkillers.

A House committee took up the proposal during a special legislative session called by the Republican governor the previous day.

Ducey’s proposal bars doctors from prescribing more than an initial five-day supply of pain medication in most cases, boosts pain clinic regulation and adds $10 million to help uninsured and underinsured people get addiction treatment.

It also places limits on the maximum dose most chronic pain patients can be prescribed and requires that an opioid antidote drug called naloxone be prescribed when people are on high doses of narcotics.

Support was broad in testimony from associations representing doctors and pain medicine specialists, behavioral health providers and loved ones of those addicted.

An advocate for those already addicted said the proposal fell short because it doesn’t include needle exchange and other programs.

“I realize that there are a number of interested parties that are here today that will be affected by this — everything from pharmacists to doctors to vets, you name it, insurance companies,” Republican House speaker J.D. Mesnard said at the start of the hearing.

“I am just imploring them that they look at this like as a partnership, that we are all in this together.”

Both the Senate and House versions are sponsored by leaders from both parties. Ducey’s staff worked for months to craft a proposal that had widespread support.

Mesnard said the proposal protects patients with chronic pain and ensures they get the medication they need.

That was part of the concern of pain medicine specialist Dr. Bill Thompson. He acknowledged that well-meaning but undertrained physicians had contributed to the opioid crisis and drug manufacturers had used marketing to boost sales. But he said patients need to be protected.

“These patients have been stigmatized and marginalized continually throughout this crisis as they’re put into this same category as those who abuse those drugs,” he said.

The committee took several hours of testimony before voting 8-0 to advance the proposal. The full House is set to debate the bill Wednesday. Senate consideration also begins Wednesday. Several minor issues identified by the will likely need amendments.

The proposal appears to have overwhelming support and could reach the governor’s desk by the end of the week.

The legislation is House Bill 2001.

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