Sen. Somers: Opioid-related bills No. 1 public health priority

Lawmakers in both state chambers have proposed so many opioid-related bills that the Public Health Committee likely will combine several into one committee-backed bill, according to state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, who was named co-chair of the committee last week.

Some bills proposed in the legislative session would create incentives to bring physicians who treat addiction to Connecticut.

Others suggest establishing tougher punishments to deter people from dealing potentially lethal doses of opioids.

One would even require physicians to enter into pain contracts with their patients before prescribing opioids to them.

Like other lawmakers, she calls the proposals "place markers," or bills that aren't fleshed out but hopefully will make it to a hearing so legislators can have a conversation.

Somers, a newcomer in the Senate who has served as a councilor and mayor in Groton and helped form the group Shine a Light on Heroin in 2014, also has put forth a host of ideas

One of those ideas is to allow hospital staffers the opportunity to hold for 72 hours people who’ve been treated with naloxone, under the premise that they’re a danger to themselves. In Somers’ eyes, such a measure would be used only in specific cases, such as when a patient has overdosed and ended up in the hospital several times in a short span. The extra time in the hospital could give them the clear mind necessary to want to seek treatment, she said, which could then help them stop the cycle of addiction.

Somers said the idea, which she said came out of talking to “many different clinicians,” could cut the “human cost” as well as the emergency response and other costs of addiction.

“We’re not trying to mandate it,” she said, acknowledging the state’s often-overcrowded hospitals, “but to provide clinicians with the ability to make the call.”

Another of her bills, which she proposed Monday, would require insurance providers to cover at least two weeks of inpatient substance abuse treatment.

“This is a disease and an epidemic,” Somers said. “If you have insurance ... you should be able to get the care you need just like you would for other diseases.”

Somers said the proposal has support from both sides of the aisle and that she’s ready to tackle any resistance insurance companies may bring. “I don’t want to lose one more young person that was covered by insurance but couldn’t get care,” she said.

Like state Rep. Devin R. Carney, R-23rd District, Somers also wants to create a way for people who are not currently intoxicated to be admitted to detoxification programs. While Carney’s proposed bill recommends barring facilities from requiring someone be intoxicated, Somers’ bill would ask facilities to also admit those who have an opioid antagonist such as naloxone in their system.

“Let’s say you have an addiction problem,” Somers began, “and you’re clean for two days and want to go into detox. Well, you can’t go into detox unless you’re ‘dirty,’ so you have to go out and shoot up one more time."

Many end up dying of overdoses at that point, she continued. “We’re looking at a method to change the language ... and the requirements of what is needed to get into detox.”

In the coming weeks, Somers said the Public Health Committee likely will devote a full day or two to reviewing the dozens of opioid-related proposals. She said members will work to combine similar bills, weed out ones that are impractical and strengthen ones that may be too weak.

“It’s our responsibility in government to do something about it,” she said of the opioid crisis, which she called "devastating."

“This is a No. 1 priority for our committee,” she said.

l.boyle@theday.com

What: A community forum to learn more about Rep. Heather Somers' legislative priorities

Where: Groton Public Library

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday

For more information: Constituents can contact her at heather.somers@cga.ct.gov">heather.somers@cga.ct.gov or visit www.senatorsomers.com.

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