House passes bills seeking to increase fight against opioids

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SEATTLE (AP) The Washington House passed measures Friday that require drug manufacturers and doctors to do more to fight opioid abuse, part of an effort to save the lives of hundreds of state residents who die as result of overdose every year.

House Bill 1047 was passed by an 86-12 vote, while House Bill 2489 received unanimous approval. Both measures now move to the Senate for consideration.

The first bill requires pharmaceutical companies to pay for the disposal of unwanted medication by consumers. The latter bill requires doctors to obtain additional training before they can prescribe opioids and hold in-person discussions about risks and alternatives with patients receiving the treatment for the first time. It also authorizes pharmacists to partially fill prescriptions and connects counselors with those who have had non-fatal overdoses.

Almost 1,100 Washington residents died in 2015 from drug poisoning, a 12 percent increase from a year-earlier, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data . That's more than the number of deaths due to firearms and homicide combined. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proposed last month allocating $20 million to treatment and prevention programs to fight opioid addiction. The House and Senate are set to unveil their budget proposals in coming months.

"This bill will help save lives, and give doctors, law enforcement and first responders more tools to fight this crisis," Inslee said in a statement after approval of House Bill 2489. "It will provide help for people who need treatment, and offer wrap around services like housing and employment supports they need to stay healthy and get back on their feet."

Requiring drug manufacturers to take back unwanted medication from consumers has already been implemented at the local level in some of the state's biggest counties, including King and Snohomish, according to a summary of House Bill 1047. Massachusetts, Vermont and California have also adopted similar pharmaceutical product stewardship laws, it said.

Some lawmakers opposed requiring drug companies to fund repossession and disposal on concerns that they would raise prices. Others charged that the measure mandating additional opioid training for doctors is unnecessary, given that they're already heavily trained and regulated, and because it doesn't do enough to address heroin addiction.

"We're fighting the wrong monster here," said Republican Rep. Dan Griffey. "It's now heroin. It really is."

In September Washington state and the city of Seattle joined more than two dozen other government entities across the country suing to hold opioid makers accountable for the addiction crisis.

The governments hope to recoup costs of responding to drug addiction, including money spent on emergencies, criminal justice and social services.

The Washington state lawsuit accused the drug companies of deliberately overstating the effectiveness of their prescription painkillers while misleading patients and doctors about the risks of addiction in violation of Washington's consumer protection laws.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin and one of the companies named in the legal action, has denied those allegations but said in a statement at the time that it was "deeply troubled" by the addiction crisis and "dedicated to being part of the solution."

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