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Senators back changing opioid law

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Senate panel on Wednesday approved blunting a broadly written 2019 opioid law that left many Florida physicians confused.

The Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved a bill (SB 1080) that would exempt hospital critical-care units and emergency departments and health care providers who dispense or administer anesthesia from a requirement to provide patients with information about non-opioid alternatives. The bill would also allow physicians and other prescribers to offer the required non-opioid alternative information to patients’ representatives. Another tweak the bill would make is to allow the educational information to be provided electronically.

The law has required physicians, since July 1 to have conversations with patients about non-opioid alternatives before providing anesthesia or prescribing, ordering, dispensing or administering opioids listed as what are known as Schedule II controlled substances. The law also requires physicians to distribute a state-approved pamphlet on alternatives to opioids and document compliance with the law in patients’ medical records.

Days after the law took effect, the Florida Medical Association sent a letter to Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees saying the physicians’ organization had been barraged with questions that it could not answer and requested the department’s “interpretation.”

The Board of Medicine was told in late July that the department-issued pamphlet had errors in it. Ultimately, the state medical board agreed to alter disciplinary rules to ensure that physicians who run afoul of the new law pay fines for initial violations rather than face greater disciplinary actions.

The Senate bill is now ready for consideration by the full Senate. Its House counterpart (HB 743) is ready to go to the full House.