Editorial: AG Becerra’s Delay Enables More Opioid Deaths
By Mercury News & East Bay Express Editorial Boards
February 10, 2018
While state Attorney General Xavier Becerra has fiddled, thousands more Californians have died from opioid overdoses.
It’s been more than 16 months since Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation mandating that physicians check a statewide database before prescribing addictive medications.
The goal is to stop patients from “doctor shopping,” seeking potentially dangerous drugs, like OxyContin, Vicodin and Demerol, from multiple physicians to feed a habit or sell the pills on the street.
But it’s up to Becerra to implement the law. As we learned Tuesday, that probably won’t happen until next year. The delay of more than two years is inexcusable.
While Becerra has dragged his feet, he collected about $70,000 in campaign contributions last year from doctors and the medical industry, which for years opposed the mandate.
Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 people die in California of opioid overdoses each year, 70 percent from prescriptions, Karen Smith, director of the state Department of Public Health, testified at a legislative hearing last week.
Overdoses account for another 8,000 hospital and emergency department admissions, she said. “California continues to face a serious public health crisis.”
Under the legislation, the mandate does not take effect until six months after the attorney general certifies that the database is ready for statewide use and the department has adequate staff.
Representatives of then-Attorney General Kamala Harris assured us before Brown signed the bill, SB 482, in September 2016 that the certification could happen quickly.
The database, which many doctors already accessed voluntarily, had been upgraded to handle the expected additional load when doctors are required to use it, we were told. Hiring additional personnel could happen quickly.
Then, in January 2017, Becerra was appointed to replace Harris after she was elected to the U.S. Senate. Through a spokeswoman Thursday, Becerra claimed the database computer system needed another upgrade to handle the load.
Meanwhile, a representative of Becerra’s office testified Tuesday before an Assembly committee that the new staff for the program had only now just been hired. Certification of the system — the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, or “CURES” — is now scheduled for completion by July.
That means that the mandate won’t take effect until 2019, more than two years after the legislation passed, and, conveniently, after Becerra stands for election to a full four-year term. It’s appalling.
The struggle to require that doctors use the database is now a decade old, led in the Legislature by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, when he was a state senator; state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens; and now Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell.
No one has fought harder than Bob Pack, of Danville, whose two young children were killed in 2003 when a car veered off the road and struck them on the sidewalk.
The driver had consumed about 120 Vicodin pills in about 20 days — pills obtained through prescriptions from six different Kaiser Permanente doctors.
Pack had expected implementation of the mandate last year. He and thousands of others who lost family members to opioid abuse shouldn’t have to keep waiting for Becerra to do his job.