Proposal would limit ER opioid prescriptions to 7 days

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Mar 9, 2016 5:05 AM

(Harrisburg) -- Many surveys show more than 80 percent of people addicted to heroin started with prescription painkillers like Oxycontin.

Now, three state senators -- two Republicans and one Democrat - want to limit emergency room prescriptions of those powerful drugs in Pennsylvania...

The three have proposed setting a limit for painkillers prescribed by an emergency room doctor -- seven days.

GOP Senator Gene Yaw of Bradford County says if someone needed more pills, they can go ask for them from their primary care provider.

"Emergency room physicians are not your family doctor and I think that limiting it to a week that should give a person adequate time to go and seek care from the family physician or someone else."

Yaw says the measure is just one part of a coordinated, community effort.

He's fearful, though, that tightening limits in one area will only drive people to look for drugs in other areas, like on the streets.

Meanwhile, some doctors say the plan is too rigid.

Massachusetts, one of the few states to act on this issue, recently approved nearly identical legislation, after that state's governor first proposed a three-day limit.

"I think that seven days is pretty generous actually. Emergency room physicians, they treat emergencies and then get people to the point where the next step should be to see their family physician," adds Yaw.

He acknowledges any changes could be like pushing on a water balloon - noting if the General Assembly makes it harder to get drugs in one area like the pharmacy, people who are addicted to opioids may just look in another place like the streets.

Drug overdoses killed more than twice as many people as car accidents in Pennsylvania in 2014, the last year the data was available.

Yaw says he thinks the proposal will get at least a serious look from other legislators because the addiction crisis is so severe in Pennsylvania.

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