By Patricia Bates and Summer Stephan
The opioid epidemic has negatively impacted the lives of millions of people across the nation, and San Diego County is no exception.
You may know of stories similar to Aaron Rubin from Escondido, who overdosed on OxyContin and a variety of other prescription drugs. Aaron was in a coma for three-and-a half weeks and woke up as a quadriplegic who now needs 24-hour care. However, Aaron is one of the lucky ones – he survived.
Aaron and his mother, Sherrie, began speaking out about the deadly consequences of prescription drugs. They founded the Hope2gether Foundation to help save lives through education.
Stories like Aaron’s reinforce our belief that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this is especially true when it comes to reducing opioid abuse.
According to the California Department of Public Health, there were 1,925 opioid-linked overdose deaths in the state in 2016, with 239 in San Diego County alone.
As a state, we must do better. While enhanced law enforcement efforts are necessary in confronting the opioid epidemic, we also believe that education is one of the most powerful weapons we can wield to save lives.
That is why we have joined forces to craft legislation to help save people from having to experience what Aaron and others have endured.
Senate Bill 1109 (Bates) seeks to achieve four objectives:
• Require continuing medical education of all opioid prescribers to include the risks associated with opioid use;
• Require placement of warning labels on opioid prescription bottles that address the risk of addiction and overdose;
• Require physicians who prescribe opioids to a minor to discuss risks with the minor’s parent or guardian and obtain consent before issuing the first prescription; and
• Require youth sports organizations and schools that have athletic programs to annually give a document highlighting the risks of opioid use to each student-athlete and their parent/guardian, and to have the student-athlete and their parent/guardian sign the document.
While SB 1109 will not solve California’s opioid epidemic on its own, it can help as part of a broader legislative effort. We crafted SB 1109 based on part of our conversations with grieving parents who have lost young kids to the opioid epidemic. It was clear to us that education must be part of any successful effort to reduce addiction.
Education is important because while opioids can effectively treat pain, they also affect the brain and can create powerful dependency in a short amount of time. Some patients wrongly assume their opioid prescription is safe since their doctor prescribed it, giving a false sense of security that can ultimately lead to death.
SB 1109 brings common sense solutions that protect consumers by telling them the truth about the risk of addiction and overdose from prescription opiates. It also focuses on the duty of medical professionals and athletic school-based programs on educating and informing minors and their parents about the risks of opiate-based pain medications.
We believe our legislation can help reduce deaths in San Diego County and throughout the state, especially when paired with other efforts to reduce illegal opioid suppliers and improve access to treatment.
California needs to attack the opioid crisis in a preventative manner before it reaches the treatment stage to truly make a dent in the epidemic. As the classic saying goes, “Knowledge is Power.” We hope a bipartisan majority of the Legislature will agree and approve SB 1109 as it moves through the legislative process.
Patricia Bates is the state senator for the 36th District, which includes North County.
Summer Stephan is San Diego County’s District Attorney.