Editorial: Doctors Stalling On Opioid Drug Reform

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For the fourth consecutive year, we write this editorial.

Since we started, thousands of Californians have died from prescription opioid drug overdoses. Tens of thousands have been hospitalized.

And since we started, the California Medical Association has successfully blocked simple, meaningful reform that could greatly reduce the human toll.

Sometime this month, the state Assembly is expected to vote on a bill that would require doctors to check a statewide computer database before prescribing controlled substances.

We're talking about addictive drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Demerol. These drugs, used correctly, can alleviate otherwise disabling symptoms. But when they're abused, they can destroy lives.

You probably know someone who has suffered from prescription drug addiction, or you might know an addict's family members who have had their lives torn apart as well.

If you care, call your legislator and urge him or her to vote for SB 482. If you care, ask your doctors why their lobbying association opposes such a simple requirement.

If you're as outraged as we are that physicians who are supposed to save lives can't be bothered to comply with this simple requirement, then pick up your phone and speak out.

The bill, by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would block what's known as "doctor shopping" — people who go from one physician to the next complaining of pain so they can collect prescription after prescription.

Sometimes the shoppers are the addicts, desperate for another dose. They need help, not more drugs. Sometimes the shoppers are dealers, looking for more pills to pawn. They should be stopped before they sell their wares to your friends or family.

The bill would require doctors to check the database before prescribing controlled substances. About half the states have such a requirement. Data elsewhere in the country shows that these systems dramatically curb doctor shopping and overdose rates.

Data in California shows that the Legislature must act. The state Department of Public Health reported in June that an average of more than 1,800 people died annually from 2007-13 from opioid-related causes. If you think that's all from heroin addiction, think again. About three-fourths were from prescription drugs.

And in 2014 alone, 11,683 opioid-related cases were reported at hospital emergency rooms. That's nearly double the rate in 2006.

We have a crisis on our hands, and our doctors say they can't be bothered to help. In past years, the California Medical Association complained that the state's computer system is not adequate.

The state Attorney General's Office, which runs the system, launched a complete upgrade last summer. The new system works quite well.

The time for excuses is over. The time for action is now.

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