HARRISBURG – The state Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to pass legislation that would limit opioid prescriptions to seven days in almost all cases.
The proposal was among seven bills passed by the state Senate this week targeting the opioid epidemic that claimed, on average, about 15 lives in Pennsylvania every day at its peak in 2017.
Lawmakers are scheduled to be in session next week for a final legislative push to get the state budget passed by June 30.
State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, said he’d like to see the legislation to get passed by the state House before the summer break. Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said it’s probably more likely to expect that the state House might take up the measures in the fall.
Yaw authored SB 112, which sets the seven-day limit on opioids. Yaw is chairman of the board of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, which has been focusing attention on the opioid epidemic for five years.
At the beginning of 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf declared that opioid abuse was a public health emergency. The governor last week signed his sixth renewal of that emergency declaration.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, opioid drug deaths statewide rose steadily in the early part of the decade before peaking at 5,559 in 2017. The number of opioid drug deaths finally declined in 2018 to 4,267. At the same time, opioid prescriptions in Pennsylvania declined by 14 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Yaw said that he can’t think of any issue that’s spurred more legislation in recent years, and that every bill can help. But he added that he doesn’t think the battle’s been won yet and the fight to curb opioid abuse could drag on for another decade.
“It’s like a rope. Any strand of a rope, standing alone, isn’t that strong. But put together, they are,” he said. “That’s exactly what we are accomplishing, putting together various bills. If you put them together I think it will have an impact.”
Other bills passed by the Senate this week include Senate Bill 93, which would make it easier for prosecutors to charge drug dealers after an overdoses; Senate Bill 118, which would create a job-training program for addicts; and Senate Bill 675, which would provide new rules regarding the use of the addiction treatment drug buprenorphine.
Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington County wrote Senate Bill 93. Under current law, she said, prosecutors struggle to file serious charges when an individual overdoses but is rescued by someone using naloxone. Her legislation would allow prosecutors to file a second-degree felony charge against drug dealers in such cases, she said. The legislation was passed by the Senate on Monday.
Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria County, wrote Senate Bill 118, which would call on the state to create a new program to provide job-training to people dealing with addiction.
“Meaningful employment is essential to long-term recovery,” he said. Senate Bill 118 was passed by the Senate on Tuesday.
Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Mercer County, sponsored Senate Bill 675.
“Our focus has been on increasing funding and increasing patient access to treatment,” Brooks said. “We’ve ignored the growing need for additional state oversight of that treatment.”
Her legislation would require that doctors prescribing buprenorphine obtain a newly established special certification from the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. The legislation was passed by the Senate on Monday.