Alaska is facing a public health emergency due to opioid-based pain killers. Alaskans are dying and families are suffering. I joined other lawmakers to take action this past legislative session in our state. The legislature addressed the growing opioid epidemic by extending the opioid epidemic disaster declaration giving Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer the authority to proceed with a statewide response plan. We also ensured permission to distribute the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.
One of the contributing factors to this public emergency is overprescribing of these highly addictive drugs. Some practitioners were prescribing thirty days of opioids for pain relief. At three pills per day, many people were becoming dependent by the time they finished their first prescription. Overprescribing also leads to unused opioids in the home, potentially available for abuse by others. A recent study of over 800 post-operative patients found that at least two-thirds had leftover opioids and over half of the prescribed pills went unused. Fewer than 10% of patients followed proper narcotic disposal procedures.
This session, three key pieces of legislation passed the Alaska Legislature to address the overprescribing of opioids in our state. First, doctors generally must limit initial opioid prescriptions to no more than a 7-day supply, with exceptions. Second, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that over 80% of acute pain cases can be handled within three days. Patients can now request to only partially fill their opioid prescription, without voiding the remainder of the prescription in case it is needed later. Third, patients can now fill out a Voluntary Nonopioid Directive, making it clear they do not want an opioid. The advance directive can be filed with the patient’s local hospital and primary care provider. This is particularly helpful for those patients with a past addiction and dependency history.
It’s important to note that legislation passed this session does not restrict opioid use for chronic pain. Both the Alaska Department of Health and Social Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide guidelines for doctors prescribing opioids for chronic pain such as alternative non-opioid therapy, lower dosages, and increased monitoring of patients.
I believe the action taken this session gives people useful tools to avoid unintended addiction. Our action limits the amount of opioids in a person’s home where they could fall into the hands of children. Partial fulfillment gives patients choices and limiting initial prescriptions to 7-days will also reduce patient medication costs. Legislation strengthened reporting and education requirements for pharmacists and healthcare providers. It also requires the controlled substance prescription database be updated daily, instead of weekly, and requires the database be checked before prescribing to avoid opioid abuse.
Anyone wanting more information on the positive steps taken this past session to address the ongoing opioid epidemic can contact my office at 235-2921. For information on opioid addiction or to become part of the local solution to this epidemic, please email the Southern Kenai Peninsula Opioid Task Force at SKPOpioidTaskForce@gmail.com. For programs and information in other areas of the state call the Alaska Opioid Task Force at 907-465-8920.