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Senate Passes Repeal of ‘Intractable Pain Act’

It was dubbed the ‘Patient’s Bill of Rights’ back in 2001, but it was based on a fraud, say critics

After 14 years the Tennessee General Assembly is looking to do away with the state’s Intractable Pain Act of 2001, also know as the “Pain Patient’s Bill of Rights.”

Thursday morning the state Senate unanimously passed the repealing legislation, Senate Bill 157, sponsored by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma.

Bowling told members of the Legislature’s upper chamber that while the original law was “well-intentioned,” it was based on bad information. The law has resulted in years of negative consequences related to prescription drug abuse, she argued.

The House version, HB0031, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams, a Cookeville Republican, is scheduled to be heard in the House Health Committee next week.

The 2001 law — sponsored by former Sen. Roy Herron, who later served as the Tennessee Democratic Party’s state chairman  — passed the Senate with 31 votes in favor, and none against. The House agreed to the Senate version 95 to 2. Despite passing the legislature with near-unanimous support, the bill was returned unsigned by Gov. Don Sundquist.

“Doctors will now be able to doctor. There won’t be that patient’s bill of rights that will allow unscrupulous doctors to create these pill mills and pain clinics throughout the state that are just dispensing opiates,” Bowling told TNReport Wednesday.

Bowling told the Senate Health & Welfare Committee last week that the original law was passed “based on intentional misinformation” from Purdue Pharma “regarding a wonder drug that was supposed to be non-addictive, no side effects and have no street value.”

However, Bowling added, a couple months after the law was passed, the U.S Food and Drug Administration made the company relabel the drug, popularly known as OxyContin.

In 2007, an affiliate of Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to the charge that it had falsely claimed for six years that OxyContin had lower risks for abuse and addiction than other competing pain medications at the time. The company was required to pay $600 million in fines and other penalties.

This is not the first time a drug pitched as a “non-addictive” substitute was found to be just the opposite: in the early 1900s Heroin was marketed by Bayer as a cough suppressant and a less-addictive substitute for morphine.

The 2001 law gives patients the option to treat their pain with opiate painkillers if other forms of treatment do not work, and if the physician determines the treatment is necessary. However, under the patient’s “bill of rights,” it also says the patient has the option to choose medication without having to “submit to an invasive medical procedure.”

Also, the physician may refuse to prescribe the medication, but the law required that the doctor “shall inform the patient” of others who will.

According to Bowling, the original act has created a myriad of “horrific” problems for Tennessee, including being known as the “Hillbilly Heroin Trail,” higher judicial costs, lost work-time, death from overdoses and an increasing number of babies being born with addictive drugs in their system.

In August 2014, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services announced that, as of July 2012, prescription pain killers had surpassed alcohol as the Volunteer State’s number one drug problem.

Bowling said the repeal of the law is being supported by the state’s district attorneys and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Barry Staubus, the Sullivan County district attorney general, told a northeast Tennessee television station earlier this week that because of the law, clinics that prescribe pain meds on demand — known derisively as “pill mills” — have legal protection. “Any doctor would have the defense saying they are mandated by the law to either give them these drugs or send them to somebody else,” he said.

Bowling tried unsuccessfully last year to pass the legislation. “There was a lobby against it,” she said. That doesn’t seem to be the case now. People “fully understand” the issue better this year, she said.

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