Those fighting the public health crisis of opioid abuse disorder in communities across Washington now have new tools.
Gov. Jay Inslee today signed House Bill 1427 to enact several recommendations made by the King County Heroin and Opioid Task Force. The bill will help cities and counties across the state confront the epidemic by lowering barriers to treatment and reducing wait lists for treatment. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody, will give health care providers more information about their prescribing practices to boost the use of best practices.
“This bill marks key progress in the statewide movement to fight one of the most devastating crises facing our communities today — the public health crisis of opioid and heroin use and abuse,” Inslee said. “This legislation helps make sure people with opioid use disorder get rapid access to treatment and strengthens our state’s prescription monitoring program.”
Inslee signed an executive order to address the opioid crisis in October.
King County Executive Dow Constantine and three mayors convened the task force of experts — representing public health, law enforcement, prosecutors, hospitals, schools and treatment providers — who created the recommendations that the new law is based upon.
“The state has cleared the path for cities and counties to confront the heroin and opioid epidemic, enacting recommendations made by experts we brought together in King County,” Constantine said. “Gov. Inslee, Rep. Cody and the Legislature removed arbitrary barriers to effective treatment. Now we need adequate state funding to ensure that treatment is available.”
“The opiate epidemic knows no boundaries, impacting lives in communities large and small,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. “We need an aggressive, comprehensive approach to address this problem — today’s announcement is the first of many steps we must take in fighting this public health crisis.”
“Anything that we can do to lower barriers to treatment and recovery to fight this epidemic will get us closer to reducing the damage opiates are doing to families, communities and quality of life,” Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus said. “I applaud our legislators for taking this bold and important step to help our communities heal.”
“By making it easier to site treatment programs to combat the opioid crisis, we will save lives,” Cody said. “More work is needed to ensure ready access to evidence based treatment, but this bill takes a small but meaningful step to help communities across Washington.”
Improving prescribing practices
This bill also increases access to the prescription drug program, an important tool for health care providers to better understand prescribing habits and potentially harmful drug interactions.
“The prescription drug program is a very important tool, and this part of the bill will provide doctors the information they need to help avoid unnecessary prescribing. It’s clear and decisive action to address a devastating opioid crisis,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, Senate Health Committee chair and the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.
The bill had broad support from the Washington State Medical Association and the Washington State Hospital Association.
“Letting data drive decision making is key to promoting appropriate clinician prescribing,” said Dr. Shane Macaulay, president of the Washington State Medical Association.
“This bill makes needed changes to our state’s prescription monitoring program that will give physicians and providers on the frontlines of the opioid crisis access to the information they need to prescribe appropriately and safely,” said Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association.
Easing demand for opioid treatment
The law enacts several task force recommendations. Most notably it supports successful siting of opioid treatment programs in communities and appropriate regulation. By removing arbitrary capacity caps and permitting rules, it should ease pent-up demand for opioid treatment programs.
Delivering treatment on demand — when a person with an addiction asks for help — is the most effective, least expensive way to help them recover.
Constantine and Murray announced in January that they will move forward on the complete set of recommendations made by the task force of experts representing a wide range of disciplines, including public health, criminal justice, treatment providers, hospitals and schools.
King County and its partners have started implementing the recommendations, with a focus on prevention, improving access to treatment and reducing harm. They have:
- Made more than 1,500 naloxone kits available to law enforcement and treatment providers to reverse the effects of overdoses.
- Launched a campaign to make it easier to safely dispose of unused and expired medication — including prescription painkillers — by setting up more than 100 secured drop-boxes at pharmacies countywide.
- Started a pilot project that offers rapid access to buprenorphine, used to treat opioid addiction, at King County’s Downtown Public Health Needle Exchange, expanding access to treatment.
More information on the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Task Force can be found here.
Funds to cover the bill have yet to be appropriated as the Legislature hasn’t passed the biennial budget. However, both the House and Senate proposed budgets have included more than $11 million in federal funding for immediate response for communities throughout the state.