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Tennessee Senate repeals Intractable Pain Act; next stop, the House

Nick Shepherd • Mar 2, 2015 at 9:08 AM

The Intractable Pain Act came one step closer to being fully repealed this week. The Tennessee State Senate approved unanimously the repeal of the 2001 law, also called the “Pain Patient’s Bill of Rights,” on Thursday. The bill to repeal the law now moves on to the Tennessee House of Representatives. “This is very important,” said Barry Staubus, Sullivan County District Attorney General. “Last year, the repeal passed through the House, but not the Senate. ... I’m very optimistic for the passage of this bill.” Staubus has been a vocal critic of the law, which he believes has given illegitimate pain management clinics, also called pill mills, a legal shield to avoid prosecution. The Intractable Pain Act was passed in 2001 after the Tennessee General Assembly found inadequate treatment of acute and chronic pain was a significant health problem. One of the big issues with the law is that a doctor may refuse to prescribe opiate medication to a patient who requests the treatment, but the doctor is legally obligated to inform the patient that there are doctors who specialize in the treatment of sever chronic pain with methods that include the use of opiates. Staubus said there was not any disagreement when it came time for the Senate to vote on repealing the law and he said all the local legislators were on board. Staubus attributed the repeal to the issue being well publicized and the number of babies born addicted to drugs. He also said the repeal would empower doctors to not provide pills to drug-seeking patients. But the repeal of the law is only the first step in tackling the prescription drug abuse problem in Tennessee, which is dire, especially in East Tennessee. Sullivan County alone accounts for 10 percent of all babies born dependent on drugs. One of the next steps that needs to be taken, according to Staubus, is to look at laws that will put more regulations and pressure on pain clinics. Some of the regulations would be that pain clinics must accept referrals from other doctors before accepting a patient, psychological testing and better record keeping, among others. He also wants stricter regulations on addiction clinics offering Suboxone and Subutex as alternatives to prescription drugs. He would like the facilities to wean people off of drugs over time. The bill was introduced by Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, who told Senate members that while the original law was well-intentioned, it was based on bad information and has resulted in years of prescription drug abuse among Tennesseans. The House will hear the bill in the House Health Committee next week.

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