Utah bill would limit opioid supply doctors can prescribe to patients after surgery

FILE - This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. In an innovative experiment, doctors prescribed fewer opioids after learning of their patient's overdose death in a letter from a county medical examiner. More than 400 “Dear Doctor” letters, sent in 2017 in San Diego County, were part of a study that put a human face on the U.S. opioid crisis for many doctors. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

(Patrick Sison, AP Photo, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — After a recent tragedy, a Utah legislator and doctor is proposing a bill to limit the supply of opioids a doctor can prescribe to a patient after surgery.

Recently, Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, who works as a doctor, was on call for his practice when a police officer asked if he would be able to sign a death certificate for a woman on his on-call list that night.

The woman's daughter had been in the room with her early in the evening, and she was slightly groggy and sleeping, Ward said. But when the daughter returned later that evening, she found her mother on the floor no longer breathing.

"There were three different prescribers who were providing three different sedative medications to her. All apparently were OK that someone else was prescribing them. And that particular night, that was just too many medicines and she stopped breathing," Ward told members of the House Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday.

It occurred two months after she received surgery, Ward said, and the death was caused by overdose and not complications from the surgery.

While in most cases doctors can only prescribe up to a seven-day supply of opiates if it's the patient's first prescription, there's an exemption in Utah law that allows for a 30-day supply after surgeries. HB15 would remove that exemption and only allow doctors to prescribe a larger supply in complicated cases.

Ward noted that the U.S. is losing as many people every year from opioid overdose as it lost during the whole Vietnam War. The Utah Legislature has passed many bills and resolutions on the issue but "whatever we've done so far hasn't worked," Ward said.

The majority of people who develop narcotics addictions start with a prescription, "so to me that's the place to go to still seek for solutions," Ward said.

A person's first narcotics prescription needs to be no more than seven days, he said. A physician can give them two or three seven-day prescription days in a row as needed, which is safer than writing a 21-day prescription, according to Ward.

In many cases, patients are on more than one high-risk medication, Ward said. It makes it more dangerous when the medications are getting prescribed with more than one doctor, and even more so if the doctors never contact each other.

From February 2020:

HB15 would also require prescribers who are about to write a long-term, high-risk prescription to check the Controlled Substance Database to see whether another doctor is writing that person a high-risk prescription. If so, the doctor needs to contact the other prescriber. They would then need to document in the patient's chart that they contacted the other provider, as well as the reasoning for the patient to get prescriptions from two different providers.

During the meeting, representatives from both Utah Medical Association and the Utah Academy of Family Physicians spoke in support of the bill.

"This is one more small step forward to try to combat our opioid overdose epidemic," Ward said.

The bill received a favorable recommendation from the committee and will move to a vote in the full House.

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Ashley Imlay is an evening news manager for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley has also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.


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