Legislation that aims to combat Louisiana's growing opioid usage and linked overdose deaths is getting a boost from Gov. John Bel Edwards this session.
Edwards, a Democrat, on Tuesday announced his support for bills that aim to limit first time prescriptions of opioids to treat acute pain, as well as an effort to enhance the state's Prescription Monitoring Program.
The opioid-fighting legislation was listed among family support legislation Edwards endorsed on Tuesday – less than a week before the state Legislature returns to Baton Rouge for its regular session. A measure that would set a state minimum wage and a bill meant to encourage equal pay for women are also included in Edwards' family-focused agenda.
“We often say that we value Louisiana families, but the lack of state policies that ensure families are supported in meaningful ways suggests otherwise,” Edwards said in a statement. “If we want our families to do better, then we must do better by them ... When our families thrive our state thrives.”
Louisiana has the sixth-highest opioid pain reliever-prescribing rate in the country, according to analysis from IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics over a year-long period through June 30, 2016. It found that there were 102.3 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people, when counting new prescriptions and prescribed refills. The national average was 69.5 prescriptions for every 100 people during that period.
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The state's drug overdose rate also outpaces the national average, fueled by the rise in prescription opioid abuse and the use of illicit opioids, like heroin, and synthetic black-market opioids, like fentanyl. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed Louisiana had the 19th highest age adjusted opioid OD rate in 2015.
For the first time in New Orleans history, deaths from accidental drug overdoses surpassed murders last year, attributed largely to the increase in the abuse of heroin and other opioids.
Deaths linked to heroin and synthetic opioid overdoses have also hit record levels in East Baton Rouge Parish in recent years.
House Bill 192, sponsored by state Reps. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, and Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, would limit first time prescriptions of opioids for acute pain to a seven-day supply and all acute pain opioid prescriptions for children to seven days. It would not apply to prescriptions for chronic pain, cancer or palliative care, and would provide some exemptions when alternatives aren't available.
Edwards is also backing Senate Bill 55 by Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, that would require that doctors and other prescribers consult the state's Prescription Monitoring Program before any initial prescription of a Schedule II drug, including opioids. The bill, as introduced, would also require prescribers undergo three hours of continuing medical education every three years.
For the first time in New Orleans history, deaths from accidental drug overdoses surpassed m…
“The opioid epidemic is one that we must fight with every tool available to us, and I believe that SB55 is going to be critically important in addressing this serious problem affecting our families and communities," Mills, a pharmacist, said.
Edwards was one of 46 governors earlier this year to sign the National Governors Association's compact to increase efforts to fight the opioid epidemic. The agreement suggests that states work to reduce inappropriate prescribing, raise awareness and increase treatment options.
Over the past week, Edwards has been rolling out his agenda for lawmakers. The Louisiana Legislature begins its regular session on Monday.
Edwards backed minimum wage hike and gender pay disparity legislation last year, but neither was successful.
This year, he's supporting Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, to set a state minimum wage of $8.50 per hour over two years. The federal government currently dictates Louisiana's minimum wage limit, currently at $7.25 an hour. It hasn't been increased since 2009.
Edwards is also backing Moreno's House Bill 222, which would prohibit employers from taking actions against employees who inquire about, discuss or disclose their wages or those of their coworkers.
“Learning how to successfully negotiate is critical, whether it’s for that next job or a current job," Moreno said. "One way to help women and men know whether they are being compensated equally is pay transparency."
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