This is the third of a three-part series previewing the 2019 Montana Legislature, which convenes Jan. 7.
HELENA – Problems with drugs in Montana, both legal and illegal, promise to get plenty of bipartisan attention at the 2019 Montana Legislature.
Attorney General Tim Fox plans to bring forth several proposals to fight drug abuse, targeting methamphetamine, prescription opioid pain-killers and drunken driving.
“Our focus for the last two years has been an all-of-the-above solution, because substance-abuse disorders are so prevalent, and it’s a crisis level here in Montana,” Fox told MTN News.
And state Auditor Matt Rosendale, whose office regulates health insurance, also has a plan to put the squeeze on prescription-drug prices, by stopping drug-benefit managers and the pharmaceutical industry from withholding information that can help consumers buy less-expensive drugs.
“We’re going to bring forward legislation that is going to help drive down the cost of pharmaceuticals for the consumers and bring transparency to the pharmacists that are delivering it,” he says.
Leaders of both parties at the Legislature say confronting methamphetamine and opioid abuse is high on their list of priorities – and that any solution should help people beat their addiction, rather than just putting them behind bars.
“Meth is a huge problem across this state,” says incoming House Speaker Greg Hertz, R-Polson. “We need to look at addiction-treatment centers, so we can help these individuals get off this terrible drug and move in the right direction.”
Fox is on board with that approach as well. He says his office will continue to help law-enforcement combat illegal drug trafficking, but that treatment and prevention must be part of the equation.
“We have a societal bias that has suggested that someone with a substance-abuse disorder is a second-class citizen … and are not worthy of our help or support,” he says. “We want to debunk that myth. These are our neighbors, our kids, they could be our parents, could be anybody.”
Among Fox’s proposals for the Legislature are state funding for drug-treatment courts (which are only federally funded now) and state money for coordinated anti-drug prevention and education programs.
He also has proposals to crack down on prescription-drug abuse.
Fox wants to make use of the state prescription-drug registry mandatory for pharmacies and physicians, instead of voluntary, to prevent “doctor shopping” by addicts; to encourage the use of electronic prescribing rather than paper scripts; and limit certain first-time prescription amounts for opioid painkillers.
“We know from the science that the larger number of pills prescribed, the more apt (someone) is to become addicted,” he says. “In many cases, there is just no reason to give someone a 30-, 60- or 90-day supply of something like oxycontin.”
Rosendale’s main bill at the 2019 Legislature proposes several steps to drive down the cost of prescription drugs.
For example, it says if a health-coverage plan receives any payments or kickbacks from a drug manufacturer, those savings must be passed on to consumers.
Rosendale said he expects strong opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and its allies, but that he’s confident he can get it passed.
“They’re going to have an army of very well-paid lobbyists there in Helena for the session,” he says. “But I think the legislators and the consumers of Montana will not be fooled.”