Also happening: An alarming number of patients were becoming addicted to their narcotic painkillers and developing what’s called a “narcotic tolerance” — meaning they had to increase their dosage to get the same pain relief.
The consequences have been deadly: More people are now dying from overdosing on their prescription painkillers than overdosing on heroin or cocaine. In October, a study released by Trust for America’s Health found Indiana had the country's 17th highest rate of drug overdose deaths, with most of those deaths from prescription painkillers.
Grooms came into the 2013 session believing the best way to put a big dent in those numbers was to impose more regulations on the people writing the prescriptions. The legislation he introduced was much tougher than what was passed, having met significant opposition from the medical community. He understood their argument: “Doctors didn’t want legislators telling them how to practice medicine,” Grooms said.
Still, with help from a fellow pharmacist, Republican Rep. Steve Davisson of Salem, he got a bill passed that gave the state Medical Licensing Board what Grooms called “tremendous power and authority” to impose new regulations on painkiller-prescribing doctors.
Pence signed the bill. And last week the board passed emergency rules — clearing the way for permanent rules to come — that mandate drug testing of pain-medication patients and much closer monitoring of patients by doctors to detect drug addiction and abuse.
Grooms is a classic small-government Republican that characterizes the regulation-wary Indiana General Assembly. As a pharmacist, he had the right to refuse to fill a painkiller prescription of someone he thought was abusing the drug. But more intervention is needed, he said, when there are critical public health issues at stake.
“The rest of the story is: What we do with these people who are addicted? How do we treat them? What are we going to do in 10 years and they’re still addicted?” Grooms said. “Look at the cost to society and the loss of productivity…We’ve got a huge problem we need to address.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.