State Senators approve legislation to curb opioid abuse in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, (April 19, 2016) — The State Senate passed major legislation on Tuesday to combat prescription drug abuse in Tennessee, making the state among the leaders in the country in cracking down on pill mills. Senate Bill 1466, sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), calls for pain management clinics to be licensed and inspected by the Department of Health. Opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and hydromorpone are responsible for three-fourths of all prescription drug overdose deaths according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

“This legislation will professionalize the industry and allow patients to have more faith in the providers who treat them,” said Senator McNally. “We continue to rank among the worst in the nation in prescription opiate abuse and deaths despite significant efforts made by the General Assembly over the last several years curb it. This bill provides for the appropriate oversight to ensure that a clinic is operating legitimately and in accordance with Tennessee law to turn back this tide.”

Under the bill, pain management clinics must obtain a license to operate by July 1, 2017 or face a class A misdemeanor offense for each day of operation. Currently, pain clinics only required to register with the Health Department which doesn’t allow adequate oversight. The legislation prescribes that pain management clinics must be inspected prior to being licensed and at least once every two years thereafter. A key provision of the bill authorizes the Department of Health to conduct unannounced inspections that may include a review of business and medical records when there is reasonable suspicion a clinic is operating as an unlicensed pain management clinic. It also requires as part of the inspection process, the pain management clinic to produce evidence that the majority of its patient population is not receiving chronic non-malignant pain treatment.

If the Commissioner of Health believes that the clinic is detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of patients, the commissioner can suspend treatment of any new or existing patient to the clinic pending a prompt hearing. If the deficiency causing the revocation or suspension threatens serious harm to patients of the clinic, the commissioner may appoint a sufficient number of special monitors to observe the operation for a minimum of 20 hours per week.

The department will be responsible for promulgating rules to set fees for licensure and renewal associated with the legislation. Those rules will be reviewed by the legislature before implementation.

In 2015, the Tennessee Department of Health released some very sobering statistics on the impact of substance use in Tennessee, including the number of Tennesseans who die each year due to drug overdoses increased again in 2014. The total number of overdose deaths rose by nearly 100, from 1,166 in 2013 to a record-setting 1,263 in 2014, meaning more people died from drug overdoses in Tennessee last year than were killed in motor vehicle accidents.

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