Nevada To Track Opioid Overdoses, Prescriptions Faster Thanks To New Law

By Paul Gaita 12/29/17

Per the new law, the state's prescription medication registry is also expected to give more detailed information about opioid-related hospitalization. 

Doctor working with laptop computer and writing on paperwork.

In an effort to curb the rising numbers of opioid prescriptions and related hospitalizations among its residents, the state of Nevada will implement a new prescription medication registry that will collect information about overdoses and high prescription rates in a faster and more timely manner.

The fast-track registry is a provision of an assembly bill signed into law this year, which will impose stricter requirements on how controlled substances like opioids are prescribed and reported to state officials, as well as penalties for medical practitioners who are found to prescribe excessive amounts of such medication. The registry will begin implementing these provisions after January 1 of 2018.

Assembly Bill 474 (AB 474) was proposed by Republican Governor Brian Sandoval in early 2017 and unanimously approved by the Democratic-led legislature in June of that year. The bill was inspired in part by statistical data that revealed 87.5 out of every 100 Nevada residents—or nearly nine in 10—had been prescribed some form of opioid medication in 2016.

Those numbers represent a small but significant increase over the previous three years, which saw statewide prescription rates at 78.1 in 2013 and 81 per 100 in 2015. The nationwide opioid prescription rate is 66.5 per 100 people, or about two-thirds of Americans.

The prescription medication registry is also expected to provide more detailed information about opioid-related hospitalization. As U.S. News & World Report noted, the extent of data about such instances is largely defined by how emergency physicians code them. "We don't have a nice, clean box that says, 'This is an opioid-related visit,'" said Julia Peek, community services deputy administrator for the Nevada Health and Human Services Department.

State agencies have reported that a lack of complete data can hinder not only analysis of the scope of the problem, but also the means of arriving at a solution.

Per the prescription medication registry's requirements, medical practitioners will be required to know and obtain written information about patients, including their birth date, note the issue for which they have sought treatment and establish a pain management plan that will include the least number of days needed to complete the prescription requirements.

Doctors will also be required to conduct a physical exam in order to assess the patient's risk of abuse or dependency, and to conduct additional reviews after 30 and 90 days. 

The bill will also establish a "Prescribe 365" program, which will help practitioners set proper limits for prescribing a drug beyond what is required for a one-year time period. "Any one individual should not receive any one medication for more than 365 days," said Stephanie Woodard, a psychologist and official with the Nevada Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency.

Additionally, doctors who are found to prescribe excessive or inappropriate amounts of opioid medication can be subject to review and disciplinary action. Some medical professionals have expressed concern that the limitations imposed by the bill and the registry could be a hindrance to providing proper treatment to patients, but officials have sought to allay such concerns.

"We didn't want to prohibit good care," said Woodard. "We want to stem abuse, misuse and diversion while ensuring that people get the medications they need."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.