Speaker Mattiello introduces bills to address opioid crisis

Building upon new laws he sponsored last year, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello has introduced two bills to help address the opioid overdose epidemic in Rhode Island.

The legislation would limit most first-time opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply and would shield police and first responders from civil liability for using or providing lifesaving opioid antagonists.

“Over the course of several years, lawmakers, policymakers, medical professionals and community leaders have been collaborating and working hard to curb the opioid epidemic that has destroyed or taken the lives of so many in Rhode Island and across the nation. We are continuing to identify every possible contributing factor and implement every solution we can find to address this very complex crisis. We are making headway — recent figures show Rhode Island is experiencing fewer overdose deaths — but we still have much work to do to put an end to this devastating epidemic,” said Speaker Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston). “These two bills will make improvements that will help prevent addiction in the first place, and ensure that nothing stands in the way of an overdose victim getting the emergency help they need.”

The first bill (2019-H 5537) would limit prescriptions for opiates to a 7-day supply when prescribed for the first time to adults, and every time for patients under 18. The bill provides exceptions for treatment related to cancer and other serious conditions, as well as medications designed to treat substance abuse or dependence.

The purpose of the limit is to prevent patients from becoming addicted. Many of those who experience opioid dependence begin with a prescription they receive after a surgery or to treat a painful condition.

The second bill (2019-H 5536) would add law enforcement and emergency medical personnel to the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, which protects them from civil or criminal liability arising from helping a person they believe is overdosing.

Many police and EMTs in the state are equipped with kits for administering naloxone – the  opioid-overdose antidote commonly known by its trade name, Narcan. In fact, a change made to the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act last year allows them to distribute naloxone kits to at-risk individuals or their families or friends so they are equipped in case of an overdose. But the law did not specifically shield them for liability for administering or distributing the drug, and this bill would, provided they act in good faith. It would also provide the protection to officers and agencies participating in the Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE).

The two initiatives build upon two other bills that Speaker Mattiello sponsored last year to help prevent opioid dependency, both of which were signed into law. The first (2018-H 7416) gives patients the option of only partially filling their prescription for painkillers. The second (2018-H 7496A) establishes a procedure for individuals to file a revocable, voluntary non-opiate directive form with their doctor, indicating that the patient does not want to be administered or offered a prescription for an opiate.

Both bills have been assigned to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.