Saturday March 23, 2013

DAVE GRAM

Associated Press

MONTPELIER-- Leaders in the Vermont House on Friday lauded passage of multi-pronged legislation designed to stem drug abuse and reduce overdose deaths.

The measures were given preliminary approval Thursday and final passage Friday, and now go to the Senate.

"These bills, in summary for me, save lives, promote recovery and protect our communities," said Rep. William Lippert, a Hinesburg Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. "I think those three goals are really what we need to do in response to opiate addiction and methamphetamine abuse across Vermont."

The measures would:

* Require doctors who prescribe narcotic painkillers to register with a prescription drug database maintained by the state Health Department and to check the database when they suspect a patient might be abusing painkillers or diverting the drugs to others.

* Require pharmacists to ask for identification from people picking up prescriptions for certain drugs.

* Set new standards for hospitals to refer patients who appear to be addicted to painkillers to drug treatment programs.

* Have the Health Department create a new program to distribute to friends and families of addicts a drug known to counteract the effect of opiate overdoses.


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* Set new standards for reporting overdoses and deaths from overdoses, of which there currently are estimated to be more than 50 a year in Vermont.

One of the bills zeroes in on sales by pharmacies of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, requiring them to use an electronic registry to record such sales. Those two cold remedies often are used to make methamphetamine, officials said.

And the legislation also would create new "good Samaritan" immunity from prosecution on drug charges when a person calls 911 to report someone appears to have overdosed.

Lippert said his committee heard testimony from a man who told of serving time in prison after making a call that saved a friend’s life. He told lawmakers he first hesitated in making that call, Lippert said.

The measures won praise from Tom Dalton and Grace Keller, who counsel addicts in a Burlington-based recovery program.

"In Vermont, one person a week dies from an opiate overdose," Keller said. "Many of these deaths are easily preventable," she said, adding that the legislation would help those prevention efforts.

One measure not contained in the legislation was a provision defeated last year that would have allowed police access to the Health Department’s prescription drug database without a warrant, something that drew opposition from civil libertarians.

Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said he had first planned to push the proposal again this year, but decided against it so as not to interfere with passage of the other measures.

"In a year from now we’ll be back," Flynn said.