One Wyoming doctor is concerned about a potential new law that would heavily regulate the prescription of opioid painkillers in the state.
Anne MacGuire, a rheumatology doctor based in Casper and a member of the state Board of Medicine, said she was alarmed by the bill because it could lead to many patients simply going without necessary pain medication.
The Legislative Service Office does not release bill drafts without the permission of the lawmaker who is sponsoring it, but MacGuire said it would require anyone prescribing opioids in Wyoming to search each patient in a state database before writing a new prescription. If a doctor fails to do so, her license would be revoked.
The database, known as the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, is intended to prevent patients from receiving multiple prescriptions at once, known as “doctor shopping,” and to bar other types of fraud.
MacGuire said she and other doctors already check the database regularly for all their patients. But to expect them to search the database every time they renew a prescription for even long-term patients is unrealistic, she said. On a recent weekday interview, MacGuire said she had written 15 painkiller prescriptions for patients. Because searches can take up to 20 minutes to perform, MacGuire said that she could not use it to look up every patient when she renews their supply of painkillers.
With the threat of losing her medical license if she failed to search the patient and document the results, MacGuire said she and many others would simply stop filling painkiller prescriptions in many instances.
“It’s too big a club for me to take the time to write for a prescription that is not going to save somebody’s life — it’s going to make their life better or easier but isn’t going to make a difference life or death and it puts my job at risk,” MacGuire said. “Everybody else in the state would do the exact same thing.”
Authorities know the opiate crisis has come to Wyoming.
MacGuire said the measure was being sponsored by Rep. Jim Byrd, D-Cheyenne. Byrd did not respond to an email or voicemail seeking comment. Byrd does not sit on the Legislature’s health committee and would likely need to bring the bill before the entire House for it to be considered, meaning it might bypass the type of hearings that committees hold before deciding whether to sponsor a measure.
Board of Medicine Executive Director Kevin Bohnenblust said he was not authorized to discuss the legislation.
Overdoses, including deaths, from opioids have been a growing problem across the country with abuse of pills and heroin spiking in certain regions. President Donald Trump recently declared a national public health emergency due to the opioid epidemic.
But MacGuire disputed the need for a new law in Wyoming. She said that the state did not have a problem with doctor shopping or an opioid epidemic locally.
“The regulation of narcotics is already huge in the state, and we don’t need another layer of regulation with the threat of loss of licensure,” MacGuire said.
But Aimee Lewis, chair of Wyoming Prescription Drug Abuse Stakeholders, said that’s not true. Prescription pain medication and heroin are both big problems in the state, Lewis said, though she had not reviewed the proposed legislation and could not comment on the details.
The bill is based on language from North Carolina, and Lewis said it would be useful to track the effectiveness of similar laws in states where they have been implemented.