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Gillibrand Pushes Bill To Combat Over-Prescribing Of Opioids

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., visited the Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County on Monday to announce the Opioid Addiction Prevention Act, which limits the supply of an initial opioid prescription for acute pain to seven days. P-J photo by A.J. Rao

It usually starts with pain.

In Alex Foulk’s case, it was a freak hockey injury in 2015, a painful gash to the upper lip that led to a prescription of over 30 painkilling opioid pills in the form of Vicodin.

A year later, Alex — a Jamestown native and just 26 years old — was found dead, a victim of fentanyl-laced heroin.

It was, like for so many others, a jump from prescription painkillers to heroin that proved deadly. And again, it started with pain.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., visited the Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County to address what she referred to as the “over-prescription” of opioids for patients with short-term, acute pain and how this often leads to opioid addiction.

She called for the passage of the Opioid Addiction Prevention Act, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Gillibrand and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-A.Z., that limits the supply of an initial opioid prescription for acute pain to seven days.

The limit would not apply to treatment of chronic pain, pain being treated as part of cancer care or other end of life care, or pain treated as part of palliative care or addiction treatment.

“Every year, we have thousands of men and women going in for routine treatments that don’t require more than a small dose of pain medication,” Gillibrand said. “They’re leaving with far more medicine than they need and they become addicted or they give the extra pills to a friend or family member who misuses the medication … or they leave it in their medicine cabinet where a younger person might steal it and bring it to a party.”

Under current federal law, a medical professional must register with the Drug Enforcement Administration in order to prescribe a controlled substance. This registration must be renewed every three years.

The proposed legislation would require medical professionals to certify, as part of their DEA registration, that they will not prescribe a Schedule II, III or IV opioid as an initial treatment for acute pain in an amount that exceeds a seven-day supply, and may not provide a refill as part of that initial prescription.

The bill is modeled after legislation already signed into law in New York state, and seeks to make it the law nationwide.

Sam Teresi, Jamestown mayor, voiced his support for the bill and took aim at those who would lobby against it.

“When I was looking over the tenets of the bill, I was left scratching my head saying who in their right minds could possibly be an opponent to something that is so basic, essential and common sense?” Teresi said. “My guess is there’s probably going to be opposition to (this) bill … not because it makes sense, not because it’s going to help save thousands of lives … but because they stand to gain a personal profit from it. That’s disgusting. The public good always needs to outweigh personal profit and gain.”

While the overall amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. decreased between 2010 and 2015, the amount prescribed in 2015 was still three times as high as the amount prescribed in 1999. In response to this, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anne Schuchat, said the amount of opioids prescribed in 2015 was enough “for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”

Dr. Lillian Ney, chair of the Health Care Action Team, and Kim Carlson, mother of Alex Foulk, also spoke at Monday’s press conference, encouraging those who have excess prescription pills to dispose of them.

A prescription pill dropbox is located in the lobby of the Jamestown Police Department.

Carlson, who said she had to “put her grief to good use,” is the founder of a nonprofit organization called A Fresh Start, which seeks to help those struggling with drugs or alcohol. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/afreshstartny.

In Western New York, between 2004 and 2015, the number of prescription opioid-related deaths rose by over 1,600 percent, from 16 deaths in 2004 to 277 deaths in 2015, according to the New York State Department of Health.

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