Bipartisan legislation package aims to tackle opioid epidemic

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Carolyn Gearig/Daily
Monday, March 27, 2017 - 2:23pm

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Gov. Rick Snyder and state lawmakers are introducing bills to the state legislature that seek to combat the rising number of opioid overdoses by monitoring prescriptions more closely and enforcing opioid abuse education. Committees within the state House and Senate will begin testimony on more than a dozen measures to battle the epidemic.

The opioid epidemic in Michigan has been growing steadily, with the number of opioid prescriptions increasing from 180 million in 2007 to 690 million in 2016. Snyder said the new bills are a step in the right direction, though they aren’t an absolute solution.

“There is not just one step to solve this problem … it’s about our society, our culture changing,” Snyder stated. “So this is very comprehensive stuff. This won’t be the last step but another good step.”

Engineering freshman Lincoln Merrill, publicity chair of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans, agreed.

“At this point, any measure taken against the drug that will help stop the unnecessary deaths it causes is welcome,” he said. 

New legislation announced Thursday has received bipartisan support. The bill limits the prescription of opioids, requires parental consent when prescribing to minors and requires public schools to educate about abuse. Patients’ drug histories will be tracked through an electronic database, as required by a new law.

The mandate on opioid education is said to look similar to a bill in Ohio that requires K-12 students to be taught about the dangers of opioid use. If the bill passes, the program would be implemented by the 2018 school year by the Michigan Department of Education. The bill was introduced by state Rep. Beth Griffin (R–Mattawan) and allows Michigan’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Commission to design a curriculum for high school students.

In an interview with WWMT radio station, Griffin said even prescription medications pose dangers students need to be aware of.

“As a mom with kids in sports, it’s good to know that this legislation will help educate my kids on the dangers of taking a drug, even if a doctor prescribed it,” Griffin said.

The opioid usage online database, titled Michigan Automated Prescription System, will be implemented in April and provide a user-friendly, comprehensive report of prescription history and usage to both the doctor and patient.

When announcing the system, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley (R) said database bill will be integral to monitoring opioid usage.

“It will give doctors real time information about the prescription history of the person they are dealing with,” Calley said. “You would think in this day and age that a doctor would have that ... but today that doesn't exist.”

Additionally, state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R–Lawton) introduced legislation that mandates disciplinary action should a patient not report usage via the database.

To benefit those who already suffer from opioid addiction, state Rep. Andy Schor (D–Lansing) introduced legislation that gives Medicaid users treatment options. Schor told U.S. News the opioid addiction is not a partisan issue, rather a universal one.

"We all know that prescription drug and opioid abuse is not a partisan issue, it's not a Democrat or Republican issue, it's happening in cities, it's happening in townships, it's happening in urban and rural areas," Schor said.

Public Policy junior Rowan Conybeare, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, agreed and said non-partisan cooperation will be integral to finding a solution.

“I’m very glad to see both parties working across the aisle to tackle this urgent problem in Michigan,” she said.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement arrests won’t solve the issue, and a systemic solution is needed.

“The opioid epidemic is sweeping across Michigan, with hardly a day going by that we don’t hear of an overdose or death caused by an opioid-based drug,” Schuette said. “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem. The bi-partisan package of legislation announced today is an important step in Michigan’s overall effort to curb this growing epidemic.”