Will Prince’s Death Finally Spur Opioid Prescribing Reform?

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JUNE 14, 2016 UPDATE: This morning, the Assembly Business and Professions committee voted 16-0 for SB 482 by Senator Lara, to rein in opioid over-prescribing and curb the overdose epidemic.  Prince’s death, and the loss of thousands of Californians every year, has helped spur lawmakers to stand above politics and stand up for reform.
We are one step closer to reversing the overdose crisis that claims the lives of thousands of Californians every year. Reviewing a patient’s prescription history gives doctors the information they need to safely prescribe opioids, manage dependence and prevent abuse. It is time all California doctors utilize this life-saving tool.

The bill now heads to the Assembly Appropriations committee, and then to the Assembly Floor.

Special thanks to the many courageous families who have been impacted by the opioid crisis who were in Sacramento today to tell their stories and fight for reform.

Original Post:

Today they made it official: Prince died from an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl, a prescription drug 80 times more potent than morphine. We do not yet know if the fentanyl was prescribed to Prince. But we do know that pain was the hidden price of the iconic moves of this legendary performer. Friends have described Prince’s ongoing problems with pain after hip replacement surgery and years of over-the-top concert performances, including jumps from stage risers, all in high heels. He was scheduled to speak with an addiction specialist on the day of his death.

Will the devastating death of a beloved rock star be enough to speed prescribing reforms in California and the nation?

In California, SB 482 to require doctors to check a patient’s prescription history before prescribing opioids will be voted on in the state Assembly on Tuesday, June 14. It will give doctors the information they need to safely prescribe, manage opioid dependence and prevent abuse. 4500 Californians died in 2014 from drug overdoses, more than any other state in the nation.

Placing prescription histories in doctors' hands is crucial, since the number one source of opioids for patients who are at high risk for an overdose is their own doctor. Yet the California Medical Association still remains opposed to this widely-supported reform to address the opioid crisis by stopping addiction at its source.

That’s the message of the powerful song "Kevin" that tells the story of a close friend who rapper Macklemore lost to an overdose. Macklemore brought that story to his meeting with President Obama at the White House last month. As the lyrics read:

Doctor, please, give me a dose of the American Dream
Put down the pen and look in my eyes
We're in the waiting room and something ain't right
All this is on you, we're overprescribed
…And now my little brother is in the sky
From a pill that a doctor prescribed

Last week, the former head of the FDA called the opioid epidemic one of the "great mistakes of modern medicine." Deceptive promotion of painkillers by drug manufacturers (who went so far as to claim Oxycontin was not addictive) and overprescribing are responsible for overdose deaths that have increased 3.4 times since 2001.

The CDC’s new opioid guidelines recommend that doctors check patients’ prescription histories before prescribing opioids. Will California lawmakers finally implement that mandate by passing SB 482?

As the Los Angeles Times editorialized:

When California lawmakers created the CURES database to fight prescription drug abuse, they left out an important piece. Although pharmacists were required to list in the database any customers who received potentially dangerous and addictive drugs, doctors weren't required to check those records before prescribing more pills. State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has a bill that would finally require doctors to do what they should have been doing all along. His colleagues should pass it.

In May, the president of the American Medical Association wrote an open letter that practically begged doctors to get on board with mandatory use of prescription databases. Steven Stack wrote:


As a profession that places patient well-being as our highest priority, we must accept responsibility to re-examine prescribing practices. We must begin by preventing our patients from becoming addicted to opioids in the first place.
…REGISTER for and USE your state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to assist in the care of patients when considering the use of any controlled substances.


Will the president of the California Medical Association instead be responsible for perpetuating the opioid crisis in California? Or will the CMA finally endorse SB 482 and use of a simple prescription tool that could save countless lives?

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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