Targeting heroin crisis, lawmakers aim to limit the number of opioids doctors prescribe

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams firmly stood behind a proposal Wednesday that would dramatically limit how opioids are prescribed in Indiana.

“Make no mistake about it,” Adams said. “There has been substantial over-prescribing in all areas.”

Adams sat before a group of lawmakers, testifying that a culture of over-prescribing opioids in Indiana and nationwide has led to a heroin crisis gripping the state and country.

“I do this,” Adams said. “I am a physician, and I will tell you at some point we have to take ownership of our part in this, in addition to pointing the finger to everyone else who has a part in it.”

The bill, introduced by State Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis), would limit opioid prescriptions to seven days for anyone under the age of 18 and all first-time patients.

“Everyone has said we have the same goal including the doctors who are being reigned in a little bit here,” Merritt said. "It just can’t be like the past where there are several people in the medical field who have gone overboard."

The bill has won bipartisan praise, including from Gov. Eric Holcomb (R-Ind.).

But  concern was raised from some doctors themselves, supportive of the idea as a whole, yet critical of some of the details that they believe would lead to an inability to adequately treat certain patients.

“I would ask we have a little more flexibility in our practices,” Dr. Richard Feldman said, a family physician and former state health commissioner.

Lawmakers also raised questions about treating trauma patients or chronic pain, for example, and the potential for doctors to quickly be classified as over-prescribers instead of simply treating pain.

Lawmakers are still working on a specific list of exceptions to the proposed rule along with how much latitude doctors should be granted.

“We’re talking about throwing everyone in this bucket because of some bad docs and some bad practices,” State Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) said.

But for some, a quick and bold change is needed, aimed supporters said at the state of prescribing practices nationwide.

“We’ve let you override the limit and the limit is only for first time adults and people under 18,” State Sen. Randy Head (R-Logansport) said. “I apologize for losing my temper. But are you kidding me?”