Walker bill aims to curb opioid epidemic

State officials discuss legislation aimed at curbing opioid abuse with reporters in the state Capitol on Monday. From left to right: Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, Health Commissioner Valeria “Nurr’araaluk” Davidson, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and Gov. Bill Walker. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

A new bill is aimed at curbing opioid addiction and overdose deaths. The bill lets patients tell health care providers and hospitals to not give them opioids. It also requires health care providers receive training in opioid addiction.

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Gov. Bill Walker introduced the bill.

“It’s not the be-all-and-end-all,” Walker said. “There’s many paths to recovery. There’s many other things that we are working on. But this is one we believe is quite significant.”

The bill also limits initial opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply. The measure requires pharmacists and veterinarians to register their prescriptions in a database. Doctors and nurses who prescribe opioids would check the database.

The database would be updated daily instead of once a week if the bill is enacted. And prescribers would get a report card from the state Board of Pharmacy indicating how frequently they prescribe opioids compared with similar providers.

Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie “Nurr’araaluk” Davidson said another important piece of treating addiction is the state’s Medicaid expansion. It’s added health coverage for 30,000 Alaskans.

“Every one of us in this room knows somebody – we’re related to somebody, we have somebody – who is struggling with opioid addiction,” Davidson said. “And I would encourage you, that if you think that’s not true, I would encourage you to look a little bit harder.”

Walker introduced the bill at press conference Monday in which he announced other opioid-related measures. The state will begin giving prison inmates who enter with addictions the medication Vivitrol. It helps them overcome addiction by blocking the effects of opioid drugs.

Two versions of the bill — House Bill 159 and Senate Bill 79 — were referred to the Health and Social Services and Finance committees in each body.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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