Gov. Mary Fallin’s office and key lawmakers battled Wednesday to prevent the death of a bill intended to crack down on prescription drug abuse, but its prospects appeared shaky as the 2014 session neared its end.
Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, said late in the day he had secured the support of only six committee members to advance the measure, which would require doctors to check an online database before writing narcotic prescriptions.
Cox, the bill’s House author, needed the support of nine of the House Public Safety Committee’s 17 members to keep the bill alive. He had until midday Thursday to win over three more lawmakers, and the prospects appeared dicey.
“I would say it’s on life support,” said Cox, a physician who spends weekends working in a hospital emergency department. “I am not overly optimistic. It’s like I say to the family of that patient in the OR (operating room). You hope and pray for the best, but mentally prepare for the worst.”
“I’m very disheartened right now,” said Mental Health Commissioner Terri White, who spent much of the day trying to persuade committee members to support the bill. But she said she held out hope that more lawmakers might get on board.
Art Rosseau, chairman of the Oklahoma State Medical Association’s Council on State Legislation, said late Wednesday that he, too, did not see much potential for a last-minute breakthrough.
“At this point, I would find it very hard to say that the physicians were willing to compromise any more than what we already have,” Rosseau said. “It’s very difficult for physicians to accept the concept of a mandate, and not for selfish reasons.”
Defeat of the bill would be a major legislative setback for Fallin and her legislative allies, who made mandatory prescription checks the cornerstone of their campaign to reduce the number of fatal drug overdoses in Oklahoma.
Last year, 788 Oklahomans died from overdoses, and 593 of those deaths involved at least one prescription drug, according to a preliminary tally by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
The 2013 death toll is certain to rise as the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner files additional reports over the next few months, the narcotics bureau said.
Oklahoma, like most states, already has an online Prescription Monitoring Program. Pharmacies are required to log every new controlled dangerous substance prescription within five minutes of filling it.
But doctors are not required to check the registry to make sure their patients aren’t obtaining prescriptions from other physicians, and many doctors don’t bother to check.
Oklahoma pharmacies filled 9.6 million controlled dangerous substance prescriptions in 2013. Physicians and other prescribers checked the database 1.5 million times. That’s roughly one check for every six prescriptions filled.
Cox’s measure, Senate Bill 1820, would require them to check the registry every time they write or refill a prescription for Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substances. That includes all of the highly addictive opiate painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, as well as many non-narcotics such as hormone supplements.
The measure has been resisted by a coalition of doctors and other medical professionals. They contend that mandatory checks would place an unnecessary burden on overworked physicians or their staff members, who would be authorized to do the checks.
Cox said the two sides had battled to a standstill over the frequency of the checks and the list of drugs they would cover.
The governor’s office was insisting that doctors must check the online database every time they wrote or refilled a prescription for Schedule II or Schedule III drugs. The doctors were willing to check the registry no more than once every six months for each patient, and they wanted to limit the list of Schedule III drugs to those containing hydrocodone or codeine.
“Being caught in the middle, I would say it’s a little bit of stubbornness on both sides,” Cox said. “Everyone wants to hold out for a perfect bill, and I don’t know too many perfect bills that I’ve seen passed in the 10 years I’ve been here.”
Supporters of the bill were racing to beat a looming deadline for legislative approval.
House and Senate leaders are hoping to adjourn the 2014 session on Friday. To get the registry bill passed, Cox said he would need to garner the nine committee signatures he needs by mid-day Thursday. The full Senate would need to approve the bill by the end of Thursday, followed by the full House on Friday.
At a glance
House Conference Committee on Public Safety
(Supporters of prescription drug bill are listed in bold)
Chair: Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville
Vice Chair: Ken Walker, R-Tulsa
De facto: Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview
Ed Cannaday, D-Porum
Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City
Randy Grau, R-Edmond
Tommy Hardin, R-Madill
Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita
Fred Jordan, R-Jenks
Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs
Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang
Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore
Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa
R.C. Pruett, D-Antlers
Brian Renegar, D-McAlester
Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow
Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City