New Bill to Put 7-Day Limit on Pain Med Prescriptions

Megan Brooks

April 19, 2017

In an effort to combat opioid addiction and abuse, US Senators John McCain (R-Ariz) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have introduced bipartisan legislation that would limit the initial supply of opioids for acute pain to 7 days.

This limit does not apply to the treatment of chronic pain; pain being treated as part of cancer care, hospice, or other end-of-life care; or pain being treated as part of palliative care.

This federal legislation is modeled after laws in several states. New Jersey recently passed a law limiting initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 5 days, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

New Jersey's 5-day limit is the strictest in the nation. Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont have various limits — most around 7 days – for initial opioid prescriptions.

There is support in the medical literature for such limits. A recent study found that for patients who need an initial opioid prescription, supplying 3 or fewer days' worth of medication reduces the likelihood of long-term opioid use.

"One of the main causes for the alarming increase in drug overdoses in the United States is the overprescription of highly addictive opioids, which have increased by 300% over the last 15 years," McCain said in a news release.

He noted that people who are addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin. "In Arizona alone, heroin and opioid overdoses have skyrocketed, with the Arizona Department of Health Services reporting that more than 1000 people required emergency room treatment for drug overdoses in 2014, while heroin-caused deaths increased by 44% between 2013 and 2014," said McCain.

"Our legislation builds on the important steps taken by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey last fall to tackle a root cause of this epidemic by limiting the supply of an initial opioid prescription for acute pain to 7 days. We have a long way to go to end the scourge of drugs across our communities, but this legislation is an important step forward in preventing people from getting hooked on these deadly drugs," said McCain.

Gillibrand said this bipartisan bill would target "one of the root causes of the opioid addiction crisis, which is the overprescription of these powerful and addictive drugs for acute pain.

"Too many lives have been destroyed, too many families have been torn apart, and too many communities all over New York are suffering because of this tragic epidemic. I am proud to join with Senator McCain in this urgent fight against the overprescription of opioids, and I look forward to seeing it pass through the Senate as quickly as possible," said Gillibrand.

Under current federal law, medical professionals in the United States must receive a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to prescribe a schedule II, III, or IV controlled substance. The license must be renewed every 3 years.

The federal legislation introduced by McCain and Gillibrand would require medical professionals to certify, as part of their DEA registration, that they will not prescribe an opioid as an initial treatment for acute pain in an amount that exceeds a 7-day supply and that they may not provide a refill.


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