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Bill targets prescription drug abuse

Patients are against it. So are doctors and drug manufacturers and the chamber of commerce.

After what happened at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday –– doctor after doctor said the proposed legislation would create a crisis in health care in Nevada, particularly among the elderly — committee Chairman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, knows his Senate Bill 75 is dead if significant changes aren’t made.

Not even fellow Democrats had a kind thing to say during the first hearing on his proposed legislation to make it easy to sue drug makers and medical providers if a patient becomes addicted to prescription pain medication.

“I know we have to do something about the prescription drug problem,” Segerblom said. “But I’ll have to do something to this bill to get it passed.”

Dr. Annette Teijeiro, one of about a dozen doctors who turned out at the Grant Sawyer Building for a teleconference of the Carson City hearing, delivered testimony that made other physicians cheer and applaud:

“An analogy that most Nevadans will understand is, would you propose a law that would make casinos and slot machine manufacturers civilly liable for ... gambling addictions, or bartenders and liquor manufacturers civilly liable for ... alcoholism by their patrons?”

What became clear in the testimony of Hollie Hendrikson, a policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures , is that Nevada has a problem with prescription drugs. When it comes to the number of prescription painkillers sold and the number of prescription drug overdose deaths, Nevada’s rate is about 65 percent higher than the national average.

Studies show about 70 percent of people who abuse prescription pain relievers get them from friends or relatives, with many young people taking them from their parents’ medicine chests.

That so many abusers aren’t the ones to whom the drugs were prescribed generated a question from State Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas. He asked Lisa Adams and David Wuest of the Nevada State Pharmacy Board whether the proposed bill would help with that problem.

They didn’t think so, noting that many doctors use an electronic monitoring service provided by the board to see whether patients are getting pills from more than one physician.

In Las Vegas, Dr. Harriston Bass was convicted of second-degree murder after a patient died in 2005 from an overdose of pain medication. He often made house calls to patients at their homes, selling hundreds of doses of strong drugs without the proper license.

In 2008, the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners stripped Dr. Kevin Buckwalter of his license to prescribe controlled substances after some incidents regarding patient prescriptions.

No one who testified at Wednesday’s hearing had an answer to questions by state Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, who wanted to know why Nevada’s problems with prescription drugs are so much greater than the national average.

Hutchison said later that he didn’t think Segerblom’s bill “dealt with the critical problems.”

Hutchison said that patients already have legal remedies for negligence and product liability involving physicians and medications.

Dr. Ivan Goldsmith questioned Segerblom’s intentions. Goldsmith’s microphone was turned off when he argued that Segerblom was paving the way for lawsuits and “shilling” for plaintiff’s attorneys.

Susan Procell, who has muscular dystrophy and a bone disorder, waited to talk in Las Vegas but never had the chance. There was 20 minutes allowed for testimony against the bill. The meeting lasted about 90 minutes.

Procell said the bill would stop many physicians from prescribing pain medications because they would be fearful of patients filing lawsuits.

“I already have a hard time getting what I need,” she said.

Her concern was magnified by testimony given by Dr. William Van Tobel, who said fear of lawsuits would cause many doctors would stop prescribing pain medications to the elderly, 30 percent of whom need such medication for painful conditions.

Not all people who use long-term narcotics are addicts, just those needing help to get through the day, Teijeiro added.

“We went into health care to help, not hurt, people and anyone who thinks doctors intentionally prescribe drugs without explaining the risk of addiction is off base. Many doctors have written agreements with their chronic pain patients already in place addressing these concerns.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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