Indiana senator pushes bill to regulate pain clinics

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— A problematic pain clinic in Clark County has led a Jeffersonville Republican to push legislation to change the way similar medical centers operate statewide.

Sen. Ron Grooms’ legislation – Senate Bill 246 – is aimed at practices that prescribe large amounts of oxcycodone and other so-called opioids. He said his goal is to ensure patients with chronic pain are given alternative treatment “that results in freedom from addiction.”

The bill addresses who can own a pain management clinic, what they can prescribe and when a physician must be at the facility. It also creates new certification requirements for the clinics.

Just last week, the attorney general’s office shut down the Clark County Wellness Center in Jeffersonville for what it called “unacceptable prescribing practices.” Within a year, the clinic had issued more than 8,000 prescriptions for 3,489 patients – with more than 95 percent of them receiving oxycodone.

Grooms said the clinic – located in the middle of a residential community – caused a disruption in the neighborhood. It had no set hours and people were coming and going without appointments. There wasn’t adequate parking. “It created an atmosphere in the community of fear and general misunderstanding of the intent,” Grooms said.

Right now, Indiana has three laws regulating the prescription of oxycodone and other opioids. Physicians are free to prescribe what they feel a patient needs as long as there is no harm to the patient and no violation of state or federal law.

But Grooms, who has been a pharmacist for almost 40 years, said the state needs to restrict prescriptions that might only be used to mask pain and maintain addiction.

SB 246 would require that each patient has a medical treatment plan that “avoids long term pain medication addiction.” Also, the bill requires that patients receive alternative treatment options – such as physical therapy or surgery.

If a physician repeatedly failed to follow proper procedures, the attorney general could ask the state Medical Licensing Board for permission to do an on-site inspection.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee. Chairman Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, said she had not the reviewed the legislation. But she said prescription drug abuse is a problem in Indiana.

“It’s hurting our families, it’s hurting our communities, and we just need to find a solution,” Miller said.

Miller said she’s planning to file legislation to combat problems with methadone clinics, which are used to help heroin addicts. She also said she would like to see new restrictions on the prescribing of narcotics.

Grooms said his bill would attack the problem by identifying the physicians who are practicing incorrectly, requiring them to become certified, setting new expectations for the clinics and enforcing the expectations.

Grooms said a similar law in Florida led to an “exodus” of pain clinics from that state.

In that state, patients have to be evaluated and have a treatment plan. The patient must agree to the treatment, checkups, consultations and detailed medical records – all things meant to make it difficult for anyone to operate illegally. John Lucas, a spokesman for the Florida attorney general, said the state has seen improvements in pain clinics since the new regulations.

Grooms said he would like to see Indiana move towards stricter regulations as well. “All of this will put us in an area of leadership in addressing this issue,” Grooms said.

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