Alabama makes life easier for veterans with bill to combat opioid abuse

This article originally appeared in the Alabama Political Report by Brandon Moseley.

The Alabama House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 200 Thursday, which establishes a prescription drug monitoring plan that allows doctors and pharmacists to see all of the medications that a patient has been prescribed.

SB200 was sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and carried in the Alabama House of Representatives by Representative April Weaver, R-Alabaster. The bill’s sponsors say that the bill will help Alabama’s veterans struggling with pain or drug abuse get the care and treatment they need.

Dial said that America’s servicemen and women returning from active duty can experience various challenges in returning to civilian life, Dial says, not the least of which can be a hidden personal battle with drug abuse stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder, physical injury in the line of duty or other ailments.

“Drug abuse affecting our military men and women is something we don’t talk about, but that we know exists, given what many of them have been through,” Dial said. “It’s time we in Alabama did something about it.”

Senate Bill 200 also allows those caring for our veterans to share information and more easily identify potential drug abuse issues in order to help those at-risk find appropriate treatment.  Veterans battling drug abuse may know they need help, Dial says, but are reticent to bring their personal battle to light for fear of stigmatization and ridicule.

“Drug abuse amongst veterans can be a ‘silent struggle’ really, one that tears apart lives and families,” Dial said. “They are crying out for help; we just can’t hear them.”

Current Alabama law complicates the sharing of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ prescription records between the VA and outside entities. This means that veterans’ doctors and families sometimes have a difficult time identifying signs of abuse, recognizing duplicative prescriptions and helping those at-risk get treatment.

“In order to better combat drug abuse both within the state’s veteran community and statewide across the entire population, SB200 strengthens privacy laws governing use of prescription data,” Weaver said.

By ensuring only legitimate research is conducted, such as efforts to bolster early detection of new drug abuse trends, state resources can be better allocated to protect Alabamians.

Weaver also stressed that “completely de-identified data could soon be available to researchers pursuing federal grants for improving access to care and reducing abuse of prescription medications.”

Weaver sponsored House Bill 270, essentially the same bill as SB200. Thursday, when HB270 came to the floor, Weaver substituted SB200 for her bill. The House then passed SB200.

Weaver said that the bill is a recommendation of the State Opioid Task Force, and passage would allow the state to apply for and potentially receive millions from the CDC for research.

State Rep. Christopher John England, D-Tuscaloosa, said that the bill did not go far enough because there was not a mandate that a doctor must check the PDMP before prescribing. England also complained that under current Alabama law, doctors are criminally immune from being prosecuted under state law as drug dealers. England has introduced legislation that would hold doctors criminally liable from running pill mills under the guise of “pain management” and encouraging addiction. This is already illegal under federal law.

Opioid abuse has soared as a cause of death in the United States. 64,090 persons died from drug overdoses in 2016 – up from just 17,000 in 1999.

Dial represents District 13 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Chambers, Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, Lee and Randolph counties. Dial is leaving the Senate to run for Alabama commissioner of Agriculture and Industries.

April Weaver represents District 49, which includes portions of Bibb, Shelby and Chilton counties, in the Alabama House of Representatives, and she serves as chairwoman of the House Health Committee.

SB200 now goes to the governor.



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