DES MOINES — Doctors and pharmacists would be required to register with and check an electronic state database when prescribing and issuing opioid painkillers under legislation introduced Thursday at the Iowa Capitol.

The requirement is part of a package of measures designed to address opioid addiction in Iowa, unveiled Thursday by Iowa House Republicans.

There were 180 opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to the state public health department. That is more than triple the number of Iowa’s opioid-related deaths in 2005.

The opioid epidemic is worse in other states; Iowa ranks near the bottom of the country in the rate of opioid deaths per capita, far below the worst-hit state, West Virginia, which experienced more than 800 opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to that state’s data.

But state lawmakers in Iowa have said they want to develop programs to address opioid addiction before the issue gets worse here.

Linda Upmeyer, the Republican Speaker of the Iowa House from Clear Lake, called the House GOP plan “proactive rather than reactive.”

The goals, Upmeyer said, are to prevent people addicted to opioids from obtaining them from multiple doctors, reduce over-prescribing, and provide support to individuals who have become addicted.

“While Iowa is not seeing the same level of epidemic as some states on the East coast or even Ohio and some of our other neighbors, we certainly recognize that we have a problem here, and especially along our borders we have very challenging problems,” Upmeyer said.

Advocates have pressed for requiring doctors and pharmacists to consult the state’s prescription monitoring program. But that requirement has received push back from some physicians and lawmakers.

More than half of U.S. states require prescribers to consult their state’s prescription monitoring programs, which are designed to identify individuals who attempt to obtain opioid painkillers from multiple sources.

Less than half of Iowa prescribers are registered to use the state’s program, according to state officials.

“I think what we have seen nationally, as well as here in Iowa, that physicians recognize that we certainly are facing a crisis and an issue with opioids,” said Rep. Shannon Lundgren, a Republican from Peosta who helped craft the plan. “We’ll have to wait to see (how physicians respond to the proposed requirement), but the ones that we have spoken with understand the process and why we’re doing it this way.”

The House GOP plan also would:

  • Require pharmacies to report to the program within 24 hours.
  • Prohibit opioid prescriptions from being filled more than six months after the date prescribed.
  • Establish a so-called Good Samaritan law, which would provide legal immunity to individuals who report an opioid overdose to emergency personnel, with exceptions for repeat offenders and drug dealers. Forty states have a similar law.

Rep. Mark Smith, the Democratic leader in the House, urged his fellow lawmakers to approve legislation addressing opioid addiction.

“I call on us as a Legislature to address these issues in an aggressive manner before we go home at the end of the session,” Smith said.

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