No one can dispute that prescription drug abuse is one of the biggest public health issues currently facing our society. In 2016, more than 4,600 people in Pennsylvania died from a drug overdose. That’s more than the number of people who died in car crashes that same year. And this number continues to climb, putting us in the midst of a full-fledged epidemic.
While we need to do everything we can to stop prescription drug abuse, we must also be cautious not to create unnecessary hurdles for patients to receive appropriate, prescribed and often life-saving medications.
In Pennsylvania, the Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions (ABC-MAP) Act allows the state to monitor prescription drugs from Schedule II, which are the most addictive, through Schedule V, which have significantly lower potential for abuse.
While ABC-MAP is an important tool to combat prescription drug abuse, some medications – like Schedule V non-narcotic, non-opioid epilepsy drugs – have inappropriately been swept up into the program. By definition, these medications do not contain opioids or narcotics, and are not addictive or abused in the same way as those medicines in Schedules I – IV. Individuals with epilepsy must take their medications each day to control seizures, and are among the patients most vulnerable to switches, changes or delays in their medication regimens.
Our focus should be on the narcotic and opioid drugs, not on the medications that significantly improve and even save the lives of the estimated 209,000 Pennsylvanians living with epilepsy. Other states, including Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, have chosen to exclude non-narcotic, non-opioid Schedule V substances from their prescription monitoring programs; Pennsylvania must do the same.
This is why I am passionately fighting to amend our current opioid prescribing guidelines. Senate Bill 728 aims to improve treatment and care for Pennsylvanians living with epilepsy. The bill would amend the ABC-MAP Act to remove non-narcotic, non-opioid, Schedule V epilepsy drugs from query requirements in the prescription drug monitoring program. SB 728 passed through the Senate Health & Human Services Committee unanimously in June, and a similar version passed through the entire House unanimously in April.
While we need to do everything possible to keep Pennsylvanians from abusing prescription medications, we need to fight the problem the right way, and not put unnecessary barriers around medications that are critical to many patients’ well-being. The legislature must work together to find a way to provide uninterrupted access to care for these 209,000 people in the state living with epilepsy – while protecting important tools to fight the opioid epidemic.
PA Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport) represents Pennsylvania's 23rd District.