Put a lid on the opioid jar

Johnson City Press • Apr 13, 2018 at 8:00 AM

If a parent leaves a candy jar within reach, who’s to blame when a child eats too much sugar?

Medical providers might consider it hyperbole when applying that analogy to the nation’s opioid crisis, but it’s clear that the prevalence of the drugs is akin to an open jar.

And Tennessee is candyland.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Tennessee residents had 107.5 opioid prescriptions per 100 people in 2016, behind only Alabama and Arkansas in the nation. Rates in Washington County (108.5), Carter County (109.5) and Johnson County (106.6) mirrored the state average, but Sullivan (165.0) and Unicoi (145.1) counties were at the epicenter of the problem.

That’s why it was good news that the Tennessee House of Representatives this week passed Rep. David Hawk’s legislation that would limit the supply and dosage of prescription opioids for new patients.

“We’re looking at placing some limits on that first opioid prescription, should someone have an episode of pain or should someone need pain relief. In most situations, three days of an opioid (prescription) should be enough to get folks through most situations,” Hawk said in a news release.

Hawk’s bill is by no means an example of government overreach.

This country is amid an epidemic of addiction and abuse, and it’s government’s job to intervene when existing laws are not enough to curtail a public health crisis.

Of course, not all doctors write opioid prescriptions like they’re tossing out Jolly Ranchers at a parade. There are plenty of responsible surgeons, internists and pain management specialists who know the dangers of overprescribing addictive substances. They also know how to monitor and consult with patients about proper use.

And Hawk’s bill recognizes that. It includes provisions for doctors and patients to have those discussions to expand more days of a prescription should the doctor and patient find it necessary.

“It’s very important to note this legislation does not and will not affect anyone who is already in a pain management type situation with opioids. And I know that’s been the fear of a lot of folks, that they will be cut off and that’s not the case,” Hawk said. “This just affects the initial prescription of an opioid.”

But something is obviously broken in our health care system, and Tennessee would do well to place reasonable restrictions on the flow of opioids.

The state Senate should send Hawk’s bill to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk when it meets Monday, and Haslam should sign it as part of his TN Together Plan to combat the epidemic.

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