Bill Seeks to Reduce Prescription Drug-Related Deaths in California

Assemblymember Jim Wood introduces new legislation that would help reduce prescription drug abuse during a press conference March 24, 2015.
Assemblymember Jim Wood introduces new legislation that would help reduce prescription drug abuse during a press conference March 24, 2015. | Photo Courtesy of The Office of Assemblymember Jim Wood

Prescription drug abuse is among the top leading causes of death in L.A. County. To address the epidemic here and across California, Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) last month introduced new legislation limiting access to opioids -- medications, like OxyContin, morphine, and codeine, that alleviate pain.

One of the main features of AB 623 would be to allow health care providers to prescribe pain relievers that take the form of abuse-deterrent opioids. Described as ADF, for abuse-deterrent formula, this type of medicine blocks the effect drug abusers seek when the pill is manipulated by crushing, cutting, or dissolving.

The bill would also help pharmacists instruct patients on how to protect oneself from harm by properly storing and disposing the medicine and for health care providers to write prescriptions for less than 30-days.

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According to the CDC, prescription drug overdose in people ages 25 to 64 caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2012. Out of the 22,767 related pharmaceutical overdose deaths in 2013, approximately 71 percent involved opioid or prescription pain relievers, reports the CDC.

People susceptible to drug abuse often crush, snort, or inject opioid drugs into their system. Alternatively, ADF medication is not easily destructible, which makes it difficult to abuse or sell on the streets.

In L.A. County alone, 8,265 drug-related deaths occurred between 2000 and 2009. According to a study published in 2013 by the Department of Public of Health, approximately 61 percent of those deaths involved an over-the-counter prescription drug.

"Pills without ADF have high street value, so people who don't abuse them can make a lot of money selling them. There is not one solve-all solution to this problem. The White House, FDA, and others have identified multiple steps that can be taken to reduce abuse. AB 623 addresses a few of them," explained Wood, a dentist by trade. "Tragically, I also saw my share of people attempting to engage in 'doctor shopping' to feed an addiction or pattern of abuse."

Wood said the FDA is currently in the process of drafting a guidance document that would require any new opioid on the market to include ADF technology to reduce opioid abuse. "The FDA considers the development of these products a high public health priority and continues to strongly encourage development of opioids that deter abuse."

Under current law, physicians are required to explain the dangers of opioid abuse, and enter specific prescription information about controlled substances into a special database called CURES. "AB 623 would ensure that if a physician writes a prescription for 10 days, only that amount will be dispensed," Wood noted.

Mendocino County, which is represented by Wood, currently has nearly double the statewide average of deaths and rehabilitation from prescription drugs, he told KCET in an email. He added that while AB 623 will not completely stop the abuse of prescription drugs, it does contain some important steps that will reduce it.

"If patients get only the pills they need, there won't be extras for people to abuse or sell on the street," he said. "This is an important step toward addressing our rapidly growing prescription drug abuse problem and now is the time to make these changes."

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