Tennessee Backs Off Opioid Restrictions That Are 'Working Too Well' | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Backs Off Opioid Restrictions That Are 'Working Too Well'

Jun 21, 2019

Tennessee's 1-year-old law that restricted prescribing of addictive painkillers has had unintended consequences, according to some state lawmakers. They've tweaked some parts of the opioid legislation from 2018, with the changes taking effect July 1.

"I think the law is clearly working. It's just working too well as far as limiting the people getting opiates they need," state Sen. Shane Reeves said while shepherding HB 843/SB 1810 through the legislature.

For patients undergoing major surgery, Tennessee has been capping opioid prescriptions to 20 days. And even then, patients might not be able to fill them all at once, resulting in repeated trips to the pharmacy.

Edna McKnight, a registered nurse from Rutherford County, told legislators her husband was forced to stretch his medication after a knee replacement surgery to keep from running out.

"I believe that the current law caused my family from accessing legitimate, effective pain management," she said. "And I don't believe we were the only ones."

McKnight said doctors also seem to be confused about what the law allows, and pharmacists continue to have difficulty with filling a partial prescription or charging partial co-pays. She and her husband run an insurance advisory firm, but she said even she couldn't figure out precisely what was allowed or required.

"That's what I do for a living," she said. "And I couldn't navigate the system."

The new law bumps the maximum to 30 days for some surgeries. It also better defines exemptions for patients with cancer or those receiving palliative care. The Tennessee Medical Association, which represents doctors, pushed for the slate of changes. 

Most opioid prescriptions will continue to be capped at three days — meaning Tennessee still has one of the strictest prescribing laws in the country.