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Wolf highlights wish list for joint session on opioid legislation

Session to begin this morning

Gov. Tom Wolf is looking at the numbers and would like to see some change.

Nearly 3,500 Pennsylvania residents died in 2015 from drug-related causes. He is hoping to sign several bills after today’s joint session on opioids that could help keep that number from climbing, Wolf said in an interview Tuesday with the Central Penn Business Journal.

The governor identified several bills already proposed in the state House or the Senate that he wants lawmakers to pass during the joint session, to start today at 11:30 a.m.

One bill would impact health insurers, which would be required to cover at a more affordable rate a new form of opioids.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is encouraging pharmaceutical companies to develop what are called abuse-deterrent opioids, or pain pills that can’t be altered from their original form.

That would prevent people from abusing the pain pills by melting them into a liquid and injecting it, or crushing the pills with a hammer for snorting – two common ways opioids are abused.

Massachusetts lawmakers passed similar legislation, and it seems to be working pretty well, Wolf said.

“We just want to makes sure patients have access to that through their insurance companies,” Wolf said.

Another bill to be discussed today would limit to seven days the supply of opioid pain pills prescribed in emergency rooms. Patients would have to see their primary care doctors to receive more.

Wolf also hopes to sign laws updating the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, which went live in August.

The updates would require physicians to check the database each time they prescribe patients an opioid, instead of only the first time, as the current law mandates.

Legislation also would require pharmacists to update the database every 24 hours instead of the current 72-hour requirement.

The governor anticipates bipartisan support on opioid-related bills, and does not expect any challenges.

“We all want to move forward on this legislation. We all recognize the problem that the disease of opioid addiction has created,” Wolf said. “We want to do something about it.”

Wolf couldn’t say how quickly legislation will move, but he imagines it “could be very fast.”

“Some of these bills, if not all of them, should get to my desk,” Wolf said. “That’s a sign of progress.”

Lenay Ruhl

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