By Senator Joshua Miller & Representative John Edwards
It has often been said that Rhode Island is like one big family. Because Rhode Island is a close-knit community, there are few of us who haven’t seen a family member, neighbor, or friend touched by the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in our state. In fact “prescription medications are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12- to 13-year-olds because they are so easy for kids to access, often in the medicine cabinet,” according to Marcia Lee Taylor from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. The partnership goes on to say their “...research shows two-thirds of teens who abused pain relievers say they got them from family and friends.” Prescription drug abuse affects every community, economic class, race, and age. Simply put, it is just not an inner city problem but a statewide issue. Every year opioids abuse costs Rhode Islanders $108 million in health care costs. In fighting this epidemic, we must look at every available solution.
As lawmakers, we must step up to the challenge and identify practical solutions to keep another family from the heartbreak of losing a loved one. Simultaneously, we must acknowledge that there is a legitimate use for opioid pain medications, and not block access for patients in need of pain relief due to their individual medical situations. That is why we have introduced legislation this session that helps to strike that balance by increasing access to opioid pain medicine with abuse deterrent formulations (ADFs).
ADFs are manufactured in a manner that makes it difficult for them to be crushed, cooked or altered —which is what drug addicts do to these pills in order to snort or inject them for an immediate high. In a recent hearing, it was demonstrated just how different these new medications are—in some cases, that they are nearly unbreakable. Despite efforts with a hammer, the ADF pills could not be crushed, in contrast to the traditional medications that smash easily and are therefore easily abused. It was not difficult to see why someone looking to alter medications for a high would have difficulty achieving this with ADF pills.
Simply put, ADF medications have the ability to stop addicts from their abusive methods. The opioid market is flooded with cheap, non-abuse-deterrent opioids. Only two-percent of prescribed opioids have any abuse-deterrence. And every day, hundreds of prescriptions for abuse-deterrent formulations are being switched for the non-abuse-deterrent. We have to do better and this legislation enables us to do just that.
Our legislation would ensure that patients get the medicine that their doctors prescribe. Our legislation also guarantees insurance parity to ADF medications, so that no additional out of pocket costs would be required by those patients who need them to manage their chronic pain. This would mean that doctors won’t have to take a patient’s financial situation into account when prescribing pain medication. Rather, the most appropriate and safe medication can be given, based on the doctor’s medical opinion.
The FDA continues to approve more and more of these safer medications and ADF medications will become more accessible for consumers, but only if we can keep the doctor/patient relationship primary in care delivery. We have introduced House bill 5219 and Senate bill 167 to make certain that Rhode Islanders benefit from this advancement in medicine formulation. We want to make sure that ADFs are available and affordable to patients for their treatment and care and to make it clear that we have to take every precaution to minimize this problem of prescription opioid abuse. We would be naïve to think that this problem has one solution. In talking to counselors and drug treatment experts in our state who deal with substance abuse issues every day, we know that the issue of prescription drug addiction is multi-faceted. As a community, we need to put every available option on the table to start to chip away at the problem. We urge our fellow lawmakers to join us in supporting this legislation and take one step forward in curbing the prescription.
Sen. Miller is the Democratic State Senator from District 28, Cranston, Warwick. Now serving his fifth term, he is Chair of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services and is a member of the Senate Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government. Rep. Edwards is the Democratic State Representative from District 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth. The House Majority Whip, he is serving his fourth term and is a member of the House Committee on Labor, the House Committee on Judiciary, the House Committee on Oversight and the House Committee on Small Business.)
Editorial note: written from a state house news release.