Legislators Seek to Regulate Opioid Prescriptions in Hospital Emergency Departments

HARRISBURG – Legislation that will place a limit on discharge prescriptions by emergency room providers will soon be introduced in the state Senate, according to the bill’s prime sponsors Senator Gene Yaw (R-23), Senator John Wozniak (D-35) and Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46).

According to the legislators, the bill is in direct response to the soaring number of emergency room treatments and resulting hospital admissions for heroin and prescription painkiller overdoses across Pennsylvania.  Prescription drug addiction and abuse is one of the fastest-growing problems in the Commonwealth.  The proposed bill would limit the quantity of opioid products being dispensed by a health care practitioner to treat that individual for no more than seven days.  Additionally, patients whose behavior raises a provider’s concern for addiction will be referred to treatment.

“We are keenly aware that more access to treatment is needed, along with more medical professionals trained in pain management,” said Senator Yaw. “This change in how prescription medication is provided by emergency room doctors is an important and timely aid in the fight against this epidemic.  A recent study confirmed that health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of prescription painkillers.  I believe the overprescribing is way out of hand.”

“I participated in the seven public hearings held by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania on the heroin epidemic in 2014 and 2015,” said Senator Wozniak.  “We clearly heard there are no quick cures for this devastating public health disease. Yet, we also know the medical community plays an important role is curbing the access to prescription opioids which, tragically, have been a primary contributing factor to heroin use.  This legislation is not punitive, but a positive step in addressing this crisis.”

“Our legislation seeks to strike a responsible balance that allows emergency rooms to help patients in need without contributing to the Commonwealth’s growing epidemic of drug abuse,” Senator Bartolotta said. “Helping to identify individuals who could benefit from treatment for addiction will undoubtedly help save lives and stem the growing tide of drug-related tragedies in our communities.”

According to the senators, last year, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, in collaboration with the PA Department of Health and the PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, adopted new guidelines for pain treatment in emergency rooms.  The guidelines recommend appropriate treatment to relieve pain for emergency room patients and to identify individuals who may be abusing or are addicted to prescription opioid drugs so that they can be referred to treatment.  While these guidelines are a crucial step in fighting prescription drug abuse in the Commonwealth, it is important to ensure these guidelines are being implemented in all Pennsylvania emergency rooms.

Rita Zielonis (Yaw) 717-787-3280
Josh Myers (Wozniak) 717-787-5400
Colleen Greer (Bartolotta) 717-787-1463