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Lawmakers push to protect Nebraska from opioid epidemic

February 26, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A bill designed to curb prescription painkiller abuse won first-round approval Monday from Nebraska lawmakers, who said it would help prevent addiction and overdose deaths.

The measure would bar doctors from prescribing more than a seven-day supply of opioids to patients under the age of 19. Photo identification would be required to pick up the prescriptions and doctors would need to warn patients about the risk of addiction and overdoses.

Sen. Sara Howard, of Omaha, said she introduced the bill to honor her sister, Carrie, who died from an opioid overdose in 2009.

After a car crash and several back surgeries, Howard said her sister was prescribed more than 4,500 narcotic pills during the last five months of her life. Howard has the rows of pill bottles displayed in her office.

She said the measure would prevent other families from experiencing heartbreak caused by addiction.

“My mom and I were planning a funeral instead of planning a wedding,” she said. “We were cleaning out her house instead of helping her build a home, and that is not fair.”

Sen. John Kuehn, of Heartwell, said painkiller addictions often begin in the doctor’s office. Addressing concerns about prescription practices will keep Nebraska from joining the nationwide opioid epidemic, he said.

A report from the Pew Charitable Trust shows that Nebraska is one of 14 states that have seen a decline in opioid addiction and death rates. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that between 8 and 12 percent of patients prescribed opioids develop an addiction and about 115 Americans die from an overdose daily.

Sen. Tyson Larson, of O’Neill, took issue with the photo identification requirement, comparing it to debates about voter identification. He argued that photo identification could create barriers for patients to access medications.

Other opponents said requiring doctors to note in a patient’s medical history that they discussed the dangers of prescription opioids could be troublesome because it could leave doctors open to potential lawsuits if they fail to make formal note of the conversation.

Howard said she plans to add amendments before the bill is debated again. Her proposed changes are intended to address concerns from the Nebraska Medical Association and would clarify the identification requirement to allow for prescriptions to be picked up by caregivers, or exemptions when the pharmacist knows the patient.

The measure advanced 47-0 to the second of three required votes.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the measure advanced on a 47-0 vote, not a 38-0 vote.

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Follow Tess Williams on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tesswilliams_

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