The Delaware Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a pair of bills aimed at preventing the over-prescription of opioid drugs and authorizing the Department of Justice to assist patients being denied treatment for substance abuse. The move rounds out Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s legislative package to fight the state’s growing opioid crisis.
The bills now head to Gov. John Carney for his signature, along with another measure to limit the ability of insurers to cut off services for patients with addictions during their first 14 days of treatment. Carney is expected to sign all three measures into law.
Both bills also won unanimous approval last month in the House of Representatives, but earlier on Thursday, Denn warned of “rumors” in Legislative Hall that opponents of the measures would introduce amendments to “frustrate or delay” passage of the bills.
“We are hopeful that the Senate will pass the bills as written so we can start getting more help to Delawareans struggling with addiction,” Denn said in a Twitter post Thursday morning.
Those concerns never came to pass Thursday evening, as Denn defended the legislation as a witness with state Sen. Stephanie L. Hansen, D-Middletown/Glasgow/Newark South, the bills’ lead sponsor in the Senate. By the time Hansen called for a roll call, both measures had picked up the endorsement of additional co-sponsors.
HB 91 enhances Delaware’s ability to track prescribers who issue opiates or other controlled substances to patients at unusual high rates and refer such cases to law enforcement and professional licensing organizations for review.
HB 100 requires private insurers and the state’s Medicaid program to provide notice to people being denied substance-abuse treatment of legal recourse to challenge claim denials, and it authorizes the DOJ to use money from the Consumer Protection Fund to offset the cost of providing legal assistance to those seeking benefits under Medicaid and traditional health plans. The bill also contains a sunset provision so that lawmakers can review its impact on public health before making the changes permanent.
Denn rolled out the legislative initiatives at a press conference in March as a way to hold providers accountable and to break down barriers for patients who have been turned away by insurance companies.
A third bill—a companion to HB 100 that removes pre-authorization requirements—which can result in patients being denied at care centers and guarantee at least 14 days of inpatient treatment—passed the General Assembly earlier this month after receiving unanimous support in both chambers.
In recent years, Delaware has made progress in combating the opioid crisis, enacting a lenient “Good Samaritan” law for reporting overdoses and giving first responders easier access to naloxone, a life-saving drug known to block or reverse the effects of opioids. An oversight committee is also reviewing opioid deaths across Delaware, and the state has contracted an expert to identify treatment deficiencies to determine how officials can better deploy resources.
Still, Delaware saw overall overdose deaths spike 38 percent from 228 in 2015—then the 12th highest in the nation—to 308 in 2016. Many of those deaths, Denn has said, are linked to the rise of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Patients have also had to contend with a series of hurdles to get admitted for treatment and then to stay in care facilities once initially approved. The result, Denn said, is that many patients are caught in a cycle of short rehab stints, followed by relapse. Some are funneled into the criminal justice system, others die of an overdose and many more are caught in what advocates call the “revolving door of addiction.”
On Thursday, Denn said the legislation would build on systems already in place to make sure that substance-abuse patients would not fall through the cracks.
“This is over and above the processes that are already in place,” he said.