Regulate Opioids to Curb Misuse

Honolulu Star - Advertiser, May 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Regulate Opioids to Curb Misuse


The alarming abuse of prescription painkillers known as opioids, an epidemic that has caused drug overdose deaths to soar nationwide, has sent policymakers and politicians scrambling for solutions -- sometimes raising the hackles of medical professionals, who are rightly wary of politicians telling them how to do their jobs.

Hawaii is no exception. Lawmakers made significant concessions to medical groups and others in removing some of the stricter provisions of Senate Bill 505, a measure that would more closely regulate opioid prescriptions. The bill was sent to a final floor vote after clearing a conference committee Thursday.

SB 505 is a rational response to a growing problem, and deserves support. The bill would require informed consent by a patient before receiving opioids, and limits initial prescriptions to seven days, with some exceptions.

The need for tighter controls stems from the growing popularity of prescription opioids as well as their widespread misuse, presumably by ill-informed patients or opportunistic abusers.

Prescription opioids -- which include drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, and are sold under such brand names as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin -- can be highly addictive. They minimize the body's perception of pain and can trigger feelings of pleasure by boosting dopamine, but also can slow breathing and the heartbeat. Those without access to such drugs may choose a cheaper alternative like heroin -- also an opioid.

Nationwide, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This trend mirrors the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. since 1999, which also quadrupled. The CDC estimates that 91 people die from opioid abuse in the U.S. every day.

In Hawaii, as in other states, the data are just as troubling. Between 2000 and 2014, drug poisonings replaced motor vehicle crashes as the leading mechanism of fatal injuries, according to the state Department of Health. …

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