Despite an intensive last-minute push by supporters, including Gov. Mary Fallin, who lobbied lawmakers in person and by telephone, a bill intended to crack down on prescription drug abuse failed to win legislative approval Friday.
Backers of the measure, which would have required doctors to check an online database before writing narcotic prescriptions, needed the support of nine of the House Public Safety Committee’s 17 members to keep the bill alive. They never got more than six, killing the measure’s chance for passage this year.
“I am disappointed the House Public Safety Committee would not even let their colleagues in the Legislature get to vote on a prescription drug monitoring bill,” Fallin said late Friday. “Requiring doctors to check an online database before writing prescriptions for narcotics is the best, most reliable way of cracking down on prescription drug abuse. It is a policy we know has been successfully used to save lives and lower addiction rates in other states, and an area where Oklahoma continues to lag behind.”
Fallin said she would continue to push for similar measures in the next legislative session, but that she considered the issue too important to wait a year before taking action.
“I accept that legislative change comes slowly at the Capitol. What I cannot accept is to stand idly by while another 500 husbands, wives, sons and daughters lose their lives to preventable drug overdoses. I plan on using every tool at the state’s disposal to fight this scourge and to help save lives,” Fallin said.
In coming weeks, she said, her administration will work closely with Oklahoma law enforcement agencies, health and mental health officials, and health care providers to develop rules, policies and a statewide plan of action to curb prescription drug abuse and deaths.
Who opposed the bill?
A coalition of doctors and other medical professionals resisted the mandatory checks, saying they were burdensome.
Dr. Art Rousseau, chairman of the Oklahoma State Medical Association legislative council, said even after lengthy conversations between lawmakers and doctors’ groups, the bill still had too many problems.
“I think that the Oklahoma State Medical Association, as well as the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association, certainly made as many compromises that we felt we could before it would start hurting patients,” Rousseau said.
Mandating doctors to check the database would increase fears among physicians about prescribing narcotics, even when patients have a clear medical need, he said.
“I think that will hurt the patient that is a law-abiding individual who is just trying to get the care they need,” Rousseau said. “What’s so sad about this is the medical associations and the governor were on the same page,” he said. “We’re on the same side, and there was no need for this to end up in being a word-slinging, mud-slinging campaign.”
Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, was among those who declined to sign the bill out of committee. He characterized the bill as government overreach and said physicians shouldn’t be forced into “regulatory medicine.” He said he also objected to some of the drugs that would fall under the legislation’s purview, such as hormones.
The measure’s defeat is considered a major setback for Fallin and her legislative allies who made mandatory prescription checks the cornerstone of their campaign to reduce 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 state Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control.
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.
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