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Prescription drug monitoring programs and laws to ban synthetic drugs are hot topics in state legislatures around the country, according to the CEO of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL).

Sherry Green, who spoke at the National Rx Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, Florida, this week, said her organization is helping community coalitions address these and other issues by explaining what laws are already on the books in their state, and how they might be improved to better tackle the problems they see in their area.

“People often tell me their doctors say they don’t have time to use prescription monitoring databases,” she says. “We explain that in some states, doctors can delegate the responsibility of using these databases to someone else in their office.”

NAMSDL works with community coalitions on drug and alcohol laws, helping them research and write laws. The group also explains to community leaders the ins and outs of existing laws in their states. “We help them understand what laws they already have that address the problem they are concerned about, and how they could be changed. We also tell them how neighboring states are addressing the same problems,” Green says.

She hears from many leaders who want to protect their communities from the damage caused by synthetic drugs. This is a tricky area, she notes. “Some states have found that when they ban specific synthetic chemicals, the makers of these substances simply change a molecule and come up with a new substance that is not covered by the ban. Other states have tried to get around this problem by using more generic language in their synthetic drug laws, which is still untested in the courts.”

If these laws are contested, states would have to prove that they are broad enough to cover all related substances. “They would also have to ensure that the language of the law doesn’t impinge on legitimate use of these chemicals,” Green points out.

In addition to laws banning synthetic drugs, more education is needed to discourage people from using these substances in the first place, she adds. “Until we get all these legal issues worked out, we need to significantly boost education and prevention efforts so the demand issue is addressed.”

Some states are devising inventive ways of fighting substance abuse, according to Green. “Some synthetic drug makers are labeling their product ‘not for human consumption’ to try to get around current laws,” she says. “In Illinois, the Attorney General worked with the state health department to test for synthetic drugs in 10 counties. They tested substances sold in local stores, and when they found a banned substance, they said they were misbranded, and seized the entire inventory.”

“Pill mills” are another issue of great concern to state legislators, Green says. “Some states have tried to put pain clinic regulations in place, but people find ways to work around these laws. For instance in Texas, some facilities that prescribe opioids are now calling themselves ‘wellness clinics.’”

A number of states are considering placing controls on opioid prescribing, according to Green. “They are looking at putting in safeguards to promote early intervention if someone is having abuse or addiction problems. This is an area where we will be seeing states doing a lot of work this year.”

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