Walker proposes more steps to fight opioid abuse

JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker on Monday proposed additional steps aimed at addressing opioid abuse in Alaska, including pain management training for medical providers and limits on initial prescriptions.

 

The proposal is the latest from Walker, who, in a move applauded by state legislators, last month issued a public health disaster declaration stemming from the abuse of opioids, such as heroin and prescription painkillers.

Walker’s bill, introduced Monday, would allow adult patients to decline opioids as part of a health care directive and limit to seven days initial prescriptions for outpatient use, with some exceptions.

Providers prescribing an opioid to someone younger than 18 would have to discuss with the parent or guardian the need for the prescription and risks associated with opioid use.

The bill also includes provisions for continuing education for medical providers in pain management and opioid addiction and calls for daily updates to a controlled substance prescription database. Failure by a pharmacist or practitioner to register with, review and submit information to the database as required would be grounds for disciplinary action.

The bill extends to veterinarians the requirement to register with the database and calls on a state veterinary board to develop resources to help vets identify pet owners who may be at risk of abusing opioids prescribed for an animal.

During a news conference Monday, Walker said the bill is not a cure-all but is significant.

State health commissioner Valerie Davidson said access to treatment also is critical and cited ways Alaskans have benefited under former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, which Congress is looking to change.

Davidson said that under expanded Medicaid in Alaska, more than $22 million has been spent on behavioral health services, including treatment. The health care law also required insurance companies to cover behavioral health services, she said.

Walker last month directed state agencies to pursue grant funding to help combat opioid abuse.

The order included a directive that the state corrections department develop a program to provide treatment for inmates at the point of release from custody who want help fighting opioid addictions.

Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams said the department plans to begin offering shots of Vivitrol, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for preventing relapse to opioid dependence after patients have undergone detox treatments.

The intent is to then pair individuals with resources, such as a 12-step program, and other assistance, Williams said.

The effort began in halfway houses, and the department has been backing into the system further, he said.

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