News / Utah / 

Utah bills attempt to limit access to potentially addictive drugs

Utah bills attempt to limit access to potentially addictive drugs

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

9 photos

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY — A few Utah lawmakers are hoping to make a dent in the rising number of prescription drug overdose deaths in the state.

Their attempts take aim at a growing problem, with opiate-related overdose deaths approaching two per day in Utah. It's also an uphill battle among some physicians who claim to already be educated on the matters of prescribing controlled substances and don't want to lose their professional autonomy.

"This is gamesmanship," Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, said during the House Health and Human Services Committee meeting Wednesday.

Kennedy said doctors, including himself, already know to limit and carefully screen patients when prescribing potentially addictive medications.

But Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, who is also a physician, has been working on the issue for a long time and said not enough to prevent addiction is being done "to save misery downstream."

Ward's proposed HB50 would require Utah providers to check the statewide Controlled Substance Database prior to writing a narcotic prescription, and if the patient hasn't taken one in the past 90 days, the prescription would then be limited to a seven-day supply.

Patients would then need to contact the prescriber for more, if that is necessary.

"It doesn't take long to dig the hole," Ward said, adding that people can become addicted to opioid medications fairly easily and after a short time taking some medications.

He wants to nip it in the bud for as many patients as possible.

The same is true for Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, who has introduced HB146, which would allow patients and their prescribers to opt to pick up and pay for a smaller number of pills to avoid having excess in the home.

"The goal is to try to keep bottles of pain medications that are nearly full out of the medicine cabinet, as is the habit of many of us," he said. "We just don't need them sitting around."

Barlow's bill would allow patients to get "a little at a time" and perhaps prevent the extra from falling into the wrong hands and posing a potential long-term problem.


Federal law already permits partial fills of prescription medication, but patients can't then access the rest of the order without contacting the prescribing doctor. It is unclear whether states need to have their own governance on the issue, but Barlow said he is working that out.

Dave Davis, president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, to which many retail pharmacies in Utah belong, said the bill will be "hugely impactful in helping with the opiate problem out there because it is going to give people options."

"It is a great step in the right direction," he said.

Ward worries about placing restrictions on something the federal government only recently loosened its grasp. The bill, however, will remain in the committee for further discussion and to work out some kinks, Barlow said.

Medical student Spencer Merrick argued that physicians are obviously not helping correct the addiction problem, as the number of narcotic prescriptions written has quadrupled since 1999, he said, and related overdose deaths is following a similar trend.

"If it were something that physicians were fixing themselves, this trend would not be continuing," Merrick told the committee.

However, Utah Medical Association CEO Michelle McOmber said the number of opioids prescribed in Utah in recent years is declining. She said Ward's bill may have unintended consequences, allowing for more than one week's worth of written prescriptions to be floating about.

"We are seeing a curve," McOmber said. "This problem happened over a long period of time, and it is going to take a lot of different approaches to hit at it."

HB50 was also held in the committee for further discussion at a later date.

"We want to find the right solutions, not create extra problems," McOmber said.

Ward said he intends to work with the Utah Medical Association to gain its support for his bill.


Related Stories

Wendy Leonard


    Catch up on the top news and features from, sent weekly.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast