States Consider Synthetic Drug Bans, Opioid Education for Doctors and Marijuana Laws

A number of state legislatures are considering bills banning synthetic drugs, requiring education for doctors who prescribe opioids, and expanding the use of the drug overdose antidote naloxone this session.

Sherry Green, the CEO of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL), says she is also seeing many state measures devoted to marijuana legislation, and bills that would require doctors and pharmacists to use state prescription monitoring databases.

“We’re seeing bills that ban synthetic marijuana, bath salts and other synthetic drugs by banning classes of substances, with specific examples of the chemical formulations of drugs that would fall into that category,” Green says. “In the past, states tried to ban specific chemical formulations, and drug makers would get around the ban simply by changing a molecule. Under these new measures, if something else in that class is created after the law takes effect, it would already be banned.”

Last fall, NAMSDL organized a meeting of health officials, law enforcement, doctors, state drug directors and others trying to stop the spread of synthetic drugs. NAMSDL has been working with the experts at the meeting to draft model legislation that will be part of a toolbox of legislative options states can use this year.

Some states are considering bills that would require education for opioid prescribers in pain management, addiction treatment and proper prescribing of controlled substances. In addition, some states want to limit the supply of certain controlled substances that doctors can prescribe for pain management. New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among the states that have established task forces on opioids, to take a closer look at how to deal with prescription drug abuse and diversion.

Other topics trending in statehouses around the nation include:

  • Prescription monitoring programs (PMPs): Some proposed measures require doctors and/or pharmacists to use the databases to spot patients who are “doctor shopping” for multiple prescriptions. Several states are considering bills that would allow a staff person in a doctor’s office to gather information about patients from the database, to save the doctor time.
  • Marijuana legalization: Green anticipates seeing many more bills that would legalize medical marijuana, as well as legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana.
  • Naloxone: States are introducing and refining legislation that would allow expanded use of the overdose antidote naloxone. “Some states want to expand who can administer naloxone beyond first responders, to include family members of people who abuse opioids. This requires rewriting laws to allow a prescription for naloxone to be written not for the patient, but for the patient’s parents, even if the patient is an adult,” Green says.
  • Good Samaritan laws: These laws grant limited immunity to people who seek help for someone who has overdosed. “States are looking at who should get immunity, and whether Good Samaritans should be shielded from both criminal and civil liability,” Green notes.
    User Picture


    March 31, 2014 at 7:38 PM

    Good Samaritan Law protections are critical. I heard a local talk show host say it wasn’t necessary. That most high school kids would call in if they knew their buddy could die and would not worry about the law. That is probably true, but what about the person that isn’t your buddy. What about a stranger laying out in the front yard of a high school party. How is a kid to know if he is unconscious, dead, or otherwise.
    Good Samaritan laws would allow strangers to get involved without fear of prosecution or even embarrassment if the other kid was just passed out.
    High school kids don’t like to expose themselves to ridicule from peers. They also don’t want to explain their activities to mom and dad or to a judge. We should protect them so they can be responsible without fear of consequence.
    If a high school kid is passed out, that is enough danger for me to want to call 911. Some high school kids may not even recognize this as the bodies last defense to prevent death from overdose.

    User Picture

    Ken Wolski

    March 20, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    States should consider bills that require medical marijuana education for prescribers. Prescribers should no longer be allowed to keep their heads in the sand about the emerging science of the Endocannabinoid System, given patient demand and changing state laws.

    User Picture

    Skip Sviokla MD ABAM

    March 20, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    Doctors need as much education as possible about prescribing opiods. This includes all doctors who prescribe, not just pain and SA docs. Any prescriptions written without a critical assessment of the need (and length of treatment) of a specific malady can be the start of a problem, even for the well meaning patient.
    Skip Sviokla MD ABAM
    author- “From harvard to Hell…and back”

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