The Forsyth County News took an investigative look into the rising numbers of overdose deaths in Forsyth County in recent years and what is being done locally and nationally to combat the issue at its root. To read Heroin's Hold, click here.
NORTHWEST FORSYTH -- A bill written by a Dawsonville and northwest Forsyth legislator can now help reduce over-prescription of opioid narcotics by cutting down on “doctor shopping” and expanding the state’s drug-monitoring program.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed three pieces of legislation Thursday morning addressing the heroin and opioid prescription pill addiction epidemic that has a stronghold across the nation, in Georgia and within Forsyth County, one of which was sponsored by District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner.
“This is an epidemic impacting communities all across Georgia, and well beyond,” Deal said before signing Senate Bill 121, SB 88 and Tanner’s House Bill 249 at the Capitol in Atlanta. “It is perhaps one of the most viscous of illnesses because it not only hurts the user, it traumatizes the entire family and undermines the broader community.”
Tanner, a Republican, said he worked on his bill for about a year as an effort to mainly effect the gross over-prescription of opioid pain medication – which gives the same high and has the same addictive qualities as heroin – and the underreporting of what patients are prescribed by different doctors.
About 80 percent of heroin addicts start out on prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine, Tanner said.
Under previous law that was repealed by HB 249, pharmacists were required to update a database that lists people who fill narcotics prescriptions every 10 days, and doctors could register to access the list.
Tanner said only 25 percent of doctors have registered for it, and, out of them, only about half are actually using it.
With this new legislation, pharmacists must update the database every day. Doctors now must register to use it before the first time they prescribe narcotics, and they must check the database any time they want to prescribe a patient an opioid and note their new prescription in the patient’s file.
The bill also moves responsibility and management of the monitoring program and database from the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics agency to the Georgia Department of Public Health, an agency Tanner said is larger and more equipped to adequately deal with the expansion.
There are a few exceptions, all of which Tanner said encourage doctors not to over-prescribe.
Doctors do not have to check the database if they prescribe a three-day supply instead of the typical 30-day supply or if the patient is an inpatient in a hospital or health care facility.
Language in the bill also requires doctors, in writing or verbally, to tell a patient receiving opioids about the addictive nature of the medication and how to dispose of unused pills.
The two other bills Deal signed Thursday also address opioid addiction.
SB 88, sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Millis, a Republican from Chickamauga in northwest Georgia, increases regulation of addiction treatment centers, prompted by complaints that they largely treat people traveling from other states because of their easy access.
Centers now have to show the Department of Community Health a need for their services before opening.
“This will help us crack down on the wrongful prescribing and the use of these dangerous substances,” Deal said.
SB 121, sponsored by state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, allows Naloxene, also called Narcan, a shot or nasal spray that reverses an opioid overdose, to be sold over the counter and removes it from the dangerous drug list when used for overdoses and supplied by a dispenser or rescue kit.
Deal signed an executive order allowing this late last year, but the bill codifies the rule.
“It’s too important not to talk about. People are dying, and we cannot stick our head in the sand and act like we do not have a problem with heroin and, more importantly, prescription medication,” Tanner said. “This is not the end of what we need to do as a state in fighting this, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.”