PEAR Vermont Advocacy Update
Mental Health & Substance Use and Misuse Priorities
Legislative Session 2016, Week 13
Small Crowd for Marijuana Hearing
A lighter than expected crowd gathered at the State House last Thursday evening to debate the pluses and minuses of House consideration of S.241 – the Senate’s marijuana legalization bill. The House chamber was not full and an overflow room set up downstairs was empty. Nonetheless the discussion was at times spirited. The public hearing was a joint one of the House Judiciary and the Government Operations Committees. Both committees had taken expert testimony during the week. The “yeas” at the public hearing almost doubled the “nays” in number and there were a few undecided that testified as well. Two of the latter were school students reporting the results of a survey at Montpelier High School. They reported a high percentage of students who acknowledged having used marijuana. Others testifiers argued that the approval of adult recreational use would increase that youth number. Interestingly a number of the opposing voices said that they were against the bill because it was not liberal enough about homegrown pot. The vast majority of the committee members remain undecided. A vote may come out of the Judiciary Committee as early as this week.
Explore: Bill S.241
No Legislative Prescription Limits in S.243
Governor Shumlin called for limits on the size of prescriptions for opioids in his State-of-the-State Address, but the Senate did not agree. At least they failed to set those limits themselves. As the result of testimony from doctors, pharmacists and others, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee determined that any decisions about such limits should be left in the hands of the Commissioner of Health. The commissioner will also develop regulations to determine when a doctor should turn to the statewide database on opiate prescriptions, thus cutting down on people with a substance use disorder doctor hopping for more prescriptions. The bill also covers a lot of other territory ranging from increased access to buprenorphine through primary care doctors – designed to reduce waiting lists at treatment centers – to increased fees on pharmaceutical companies. The money raised by those fees would go to a number of efforts ranging from a study of pain management and a prescription drug give back program.
Explore: Bill S. 243
Burlington Free Press: Limits on Opiate Pills Could Curb Addiction Crisis
Feds Up Ante in Opioid Battle
Last month Governor Shumlin went down to Washington to testify for increased federal funding and involvement in the battle against opioid abuse. This past week he got part of his answer when President Obama unveiled a bundle of initiatives to help law enforcement, children and families and other individuals to find help. Obama went to the national summit on Drug Abuse & Heroin to make his announcement. There will be new funding for new programs in treatment and law enforcement. Vermonters have already seen some of the benefits of this effort with health centers in Rutland, Burlington, Randolph and St. Johnsbury all having received – or are slated to receive – assistance from the feds. Obama also wants to double the number of clients receiving medicated-assisted treatment from qualified doctors. Addressing one of Shumlin’s specific issues, the Obama proposal includes raising the limit for doctors treating heroin addicts to 200.
Vermont CVS to Offer Naloxone
Prescription free naloxone – the overdose antidote drug – will now be available at the eight CVS pharmacies in Vermont. Governor Shumlin joined others in announcing the plan at a news conference on Wednesday. Naloxone will cost between $60 and $90 for two doses. This move will continue to expand the availability of naloxone beyond the use of emergency responders to opiate addicts and their families.
(Naloxone is in a class of medications called opiate antagonists. Opiate antagonists work by binding to the body’s opioid receptors and overriding any reaction that these receptors could have to the introduction of opiates to the system. When a person who is overdosing on prescription opioids or illicit opioids, such as heroin, is given naloxone, their breath can immediately be restored back to normal and save their life.)
Colorado Testifies on Marijuana
Andrew Freedman, Director of Colorado’s Office of Marijuana Coordination, testified in the House Judiciary Committee last week concerning the impact of legalization in his state. He has dealt with issues ranging from public safety to marijuana use by youth. Freedman works out of the Governor’s office in Colorado. He addressed the question of drugged driving [see below] and said that though Colorado has increased enforcement, they have seen no increase in citations for impaired driving.
Saliva Testing Considered
House bill 228 addresses the question of drugged driving and the use of saliva testing to trace impairment behind the wheel. The bill expands the state’s DUI regulations extending the law to include any “regulated drug.” The saliva testing is purported to detect drugs including marijuana and opiates. Currently in the House Transportation Committee, H.228 is supported by the committee’s chair Pat Brennan, who is also a co-sponsor of the bill. The test would be used for roadside stops where the officer suspects drug use. If positive, then an officer who specializes in drug use detection would be called to the scene. The bill’s critics question the accuracy of the test, as well as civil liberty issues. They also question the ability of the test to determine the amount of the drug in the system and the level of impairment. There would be an exception for prescribed medications.
Explore: Bill H.228
Brattleboro Reformer: House Panel Explores Roadside Saliva Testing
Big Tax On E-Cigarettes
A 92% tax on e-cigarettes was approved by the House last week; it was a spirited debate on the House floor. Supporters noted the high use by young smokers and that it is a gateway to tobacco use. It was also argued that the levy, while high, would bring e-cigarettes up to the same tax level as tobacco products. According to one survey, e-cigarettes are now more popular among young Vermonters than tobacco. Some adults claim that it has helped them quit smoking. Advocates of the bill say that the jury is still out as to how harmful e-cigarettes actually are. Opponents claim that the tax will hurt low-income Vermonters and force some retailers out of business. The bill will now go on to the Senate.
Vermont Public Radio: House Lawmakers Approve Hefty Tax on E-Cigarettes