Wide Ranging Impacts of Misguided Georgia Pharmacy Bill

CN: Addiction, mentions of overdose.

Bill SB 81 in Georgia has been proposed with the intention of making opioid pain medications less available in an attempt to fight opioid addiction in Georgia. It requires, among other things, that prescriptions for any Schedule II, III, IV, and V drugs have prescriptions limited to a five day supply at a time. People who use Schedule II medications to treat ADHD and related conditions quickly noticed that as written the law would require them to get a new prescription every five days for medications like Ritalin and Adderal. After reading the bill, it appears to me that this would also require people who use testosterone medications to get a new prescription every five days as well, since testosterone containing medications are Schedule III drugs.

These medications often already require the patient (or parent or caretaker) to carry a physical paper prescription into the pharmacy. The new regulations would require medical providers, patients, and pharmacies to do staggeringly more work and paperwork. Some of these medications are usually used for years or a lifetime, and certainly many patients would really struggle with getting to their doctor’s office and the pharmacy every week.

I currently get a testosterone prescription from my doctor once a year, and I fill it about three times a year. Now that insurance pays for my medication I pay a $10 co-pay with each refill, so my cost is $30 per year. I do injections every two weeks, so under this law I would go from 4 errands and $30 a year to 52 errands and $260 a year. For someone who takes a medication, such as Ritalin, every day that would increase to 146 errands a year and $730. This is obviously wildly inappropriate.

The law is supposed to be aimed at decreasing opioid addiction (and related overdose deaths), and decrease the availability of these pain killers to addicts and those who sell these medicines. But there is good reason to think that decreasing prescriptions for painkillers is not the solution to addiction, and that funding addiction treatment and decreasing stigma related to addiction are much better tactics. Instead of preventing addiction decreasing access to pain medications is most likely to impact people who are suffering with real pain, and fear of addiction prevents many people from having access to effective pain medications.

Limits on opioid medications particularly effect people living with chronic pain, who could live more comfortable and functional lives with access to appropriate pain management. Although the law has an exception for chronic pain sufferers, it is likely that this law would be used by medical providers and authorities to question and limit access for these patients too.

The law does actually have some good proposals in it, such as making the opioid blocker naloxone (also known as Narcan) available over the counter. Naloxone saves lives in the event of a heroin overdose, and increased availability is an effective harm reduction strategy that should be encouraged. However, it is worth noting that the price of naloxone has risen steeply and simply making it available over the counter won’t make it affordable.

This bill’s attempt to deal with opioid addiction and overdose deaths is misguided on all levels. If instituted as it currently reads it would create chaos for medical care providers, dramatically increased costs and wasted time for many patients, increased pain for patients who really need these medications, and likely will not significantly impact addiction and overdose rates. It does nothing to deal with the unreasonably high cost of the life saving medication naloxone, nor does it increase funding for addiction treatment. The people of Georgia deserve a better solution.

Wide Ranging Impacts of Misguided Georgia Pharmacy Bill

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