Nevada is expanding provisions of a prescription medication registry designed to fast-track the collection of information about overdose deaths, flag excess dispensing of powerful painkillers, and help curb a nationwide opioid epidemic.
Provisions of the Controlled Substance Abuse Prevention Act will tighten reporting requirements after Jan. 1 and restrict the prescribing of highly addictive painkillers such as oxycodone.
It also aims to shut off the illegal flow of substances such as heroin and fentanyl.
"It's going to make it harder to prescribe opioids for patients. I think that's good news," said Dr. Mel Pohl, chief medical officer at the Las Vegas Recovery Center who has worked for three-decades on addiction treatment in Nevada. "The intent is to diminish the number of pills that are prescribed to Nevadans."
The measure, Assembly Bill 474, was proposed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and unanimously passed by the Democratic-led Legislature as a way to combat the crisis in painkiller addiction and misuse.
Opioids killed more than 33,000 people in the U.S. in 2015, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involving a prescription medication.
Nevada has averaged more than 400 opioid-related deaths annually since 2010, according to the state Office of Public Health Informatics and Epidemiology. That included 387 such deaths in 2016.
In the Las Vegas area, the Southern Nevada Health District reported in October that since 2008, more people have died each year from opioid overdoses than vehicle or gun accidents.
The new law aims to collect information faster about overdoses and prescription rates in the state where the most recent data, from 2016, shows that 87.5 of every 100 people — nearly nine in 10 — has been prescribed some type of opioid. That's much higher than the nationwide prescription figure of 66.5 per 100, or about two-thirds.
Physicians will be required to know the person being treated, establish a pain management plan, obtain written information including the patient's birthdate, and note the ailment being treated and the least number of days needed to consume the prescription. Information will be kept in an existing state drug monitoring database.
Doctors also will be required to conduct a physical exam and assess the patient's risk of abuse, dependency and addiction. Reviews will be required after 30 days and 90 days.
A "Prescribe 365" program aims to prevent practitioners from prescribing more of a drug than can be used in a one-year period.
"Any one individual should not receive any one medication for more than 365 days," said Stephanie Woodard, a psychologist and official with the Nevada state Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency.
"We didn't want to prohibit good care," said Woodard, who helped draw up the law. "We want to stem abuse, misuse and diversion while ensuring that people get the medications they need."