House OKs new bills to fight opioid epidemic

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The state House approved a slew of bills aimed at combatting the opioid epidemic by creating regulations to track and control the flow of prescription drugs.

Six Senate bills would collectively require doctors to use a new online prescription tracking state database, establish a “bona fide relationship” between doctors and patients, and limit the number of opioid prescriptions. The bills overwhelmingly passed, but a handful of Democrats and Republicans opposed some of the measures.

The Senate previously approved the legislation, so the bills now go back to the Senate to be enrolled in its records and sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for consideration.

A bill from Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, requires the state to record opioid prescriptions in its new online database in an effort to keep tabs on doctors who prescribe too much. It’s also meant to help doctors know when patients are hopping from office to office to get too many pills.

A similar bill from Sen. Tanya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, requires that doctors review a patient’s history on MAPS before prescribing opioids. The measure was a recommended change in a report written by a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to look into ways of fighting the state’s opioid epidemic.

According to the report, every state except Missouri has a prescription drug tracking system for pills. MAPS came online in 2002 but recently saw a major upgrade in April that lawmakers, Snyder’s opioid task force and health professionals hailed as a cornerstone of the state’s opioid epidemic battle.

The legislation would stop a prescriber other than veterinarians from distributing opioids without first looking into a patient’s prescription history on MAPS.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley was a major proponent of the legislation along with Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Office, the Michigan Pharmacists Association, the Michigan Association of Health Plans and the Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals.

The Michigan Health and Hospital Association was neutral on Schuitmaker’s bill. An organization lobbyist said previously they were concerned with requiring doctors to use the new system because it could bog down the work flow for doctors.

Groups representing doctors, pharmacists and hospitals have all hailed the update as a way to fight addiction by helping doctors and law enforcement identify those who might be going from doctor to doctor to get pills. But there is disagreement about whether using the system should be mandatory.

The Michigan State Medical Society originally delayed Zorn and Schuitmaker’s bills, arguing that use of the new tracking system should remain voluntary.

Other bills would require a “bona fide” patient-doctor relationship before a doctor could prescribe opioids and limit the supply of opioids.

The new computing system and the legislation are part of a continuing effort to curb opioid abuse in Michigan where heroin- and opioid-related overdose deaths increased from 1999 to 2014, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Legislation signed last year by Snyder allotted $2.5 million for a new cloud-based database and did not require doctors to check the system before prescribing addictive painkillers to patients. Although some in the industry say the proposal could help fight the state’s opioid abuse epidemic, the medical society has voiced strong concerns that requiring use of the new system would be time consuming and add more work for doctors.