New Law Puts California On Front Lines of Battle Against Opioid Addiction

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Santa Monica, CA – Consumer Watchdog and families who lost loved ones in the opioid epidemic applauded Governor Jerry Brown’s signature today of a new law that will stem opioid overprescribing in California and save lives.

SB 482 requires doctors to check a patient’s prescription history in the state Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database before prescribing opioids or other potentially dangerous drugs. It will ensure physicians have the information they need to safely prescribe opioids, manage dependence and prevent abuse. SB 482 (Lara) passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.

“Too many doctors for too long refused to use this life-saving tool,” said Bob Pack, who helped promote and create the drug database. “Patients will be safer because of this legislation. Every doctor in California will have the information they need to safely prescribe potentially addictive drugs, curb the opioid abuse crisis and prevent prescription tragedies.”

Bob Pack of Danville lost his two young children, 7 year-old Alana and 10 year-old Troy, when they were run over by a driver high on drugs and alcohol. The driver had been recklessly prescribed narcotics by seven different doctors at the same hospital who didn’t check her symptoms, or prescription history. Pack’s advocacy spurred creation of the modern CURES prescription database and he has fought for over a decade in the legislature and at the ballot to ensure doctors use this life-saving tool.

“It's too late for my family, but it's going to help a lot of others and that's the whole point of this program and me pushing for all these years," said Pack to the Associated Press.

Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, said, “California loses more people to opioid overdoses than any other state. This law will finally put the state on the front lines of the battle against opioid addiction. Reviewing a patient’s prescription history before prescribing helps doctors identify doctor shopping, reduce opioid overprescribing and save lives.”

The devastation of the opioid epidemic cannot be overstated, said Consumer Watchdog. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses have increased fourfold since 1999 to become the number one cause of accidental death in the nation. California has been harder-hit than any other state. According to the California Department of Public Health, 1,895 people died of prescription opioid overdoses in 2013. Another 11,683 – 32 people for every day of the year – were treated in California emergency rooms for non-fatal overdoses and other opioid-related conditions.

The CDC, American Medical Association, California Medical Board, and academic and medical professionals across the country have recommended physicians use prescription databases as a key tool to give doctors the information they need to safely prescribe opioids, manage dependence and prevent abuse.

SB 482 requires physicians to check a patient’s prescription history in the state Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database, before prescribing an opioid or other controlled substance, and to check again every four months if treatment continues.

The bill was backed by a broad coalition of support, including co-sponsors Consumer Attorneys of California and California Narcotics Officers Association, as well as Shatterproof, the Medical Board of California, California Chamber of Commerce, Consumer Federation of California, Consumer Watchdog and Small Business California.

Approximately twenty states have enacted similar laws requiring physicians to check prescription-monitoring programs before prescribing opioids.  According to the PMP Center of Excellence at Brandeis University, New York saw a 75% reduction in doctor shopping after the first year of use. Kentucky saw opioid prescriptions fall 8.5% in its first year. A Tennessee survey of physicians about use of its database found that: 41 percent report they are less likely to prescribe controlled substances after checking it; 34 percent report they are more likely to refer a patient for substance abuse treatment; and, 86 percent report that the database is useful for decreasing doctor shopping.

In January, the California Attorney General’s office announced that a two-year $3.6 million upgrade to California’s prescription database, known as “CURES,” was complete. Every health care provider licensed to prescribe or dispense medications was required to register to access the CURES database by July 1 of 2016.

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Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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