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New Rhode Island Laws Aim to Combat Opioid Epidemic

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Gov. Gina Raimondo has signed three bills into law aimed at combating Rhode Island’s opioid epidemic.

The legislation allows law enforcement access to an electronic database of prescription painkillers without a warrant; requires health care professionals to discuss the risks of addiction with patients when writing opioid prescriptions; and expands the type of pharmaceuticals that can be prescribed using electronic prescriptions, while ensuring patient privacy.

The state Department of Health said that mandating electronic prescriptions will reduce pharmacy errors and also the likelihood for fraudulent prescriptions because paper prescription pads have sometimes been stolen to obtain the drugs illegally.

The Democratic governor, who announced Wednesday she’d signed the bills, said the opioid epidemic is the “single greatest public health crisis of our time,” with 1,200 Rhode Island residents dying of overdoses in five years.

“Every Rhode Island community has been touched by this crisis, and I’ll take every step I can to fight back,” she said in a statement.

Raimondo and other governors attending the National Governors Association meeting in Providence last week said they’re frustrated that more progress hasn’t been made in combating the problem and they share a sense of urgency to address it. Several governors stressed the importance of attacking the epidemic from multiple angles, including prevention, education, treatment and law enforcement.

The acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Richard Baum, moderated the discussion with the governors. Baum said 52,000 Americans overdosed on drugs in 2015 and 33,000 of those were opioid-related.

“All of us need a sense of urgency,” he said. “We need to have the view that this level of fatalities related to drugs should be unacceptable.”

The epidemic hasn’t peaked yet and the numbers for 2016 are expected to be higher, Baum said. He praised states for taking action.

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