#AZLeg Passes Landmark, Bipartisan Opioid Bill

There were a lot of conversations going on in advance of the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act.

January 25, 2018 was one of the most dramatic days at the Arizona Legislature, since I was elected.

Not only did we have ~75 Luchadores visiting their Legislators and five extremely aggressive anti-immigrant, pro-Trump protesters heckling them, we also had the big vote on the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act (SB1001).

We have been working on SB1001/HB2001 for weeks. Unlike much of what we do in the Arizona Legislature, the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act was a truly bipartisan effort. The governor even gave the Democrats the bill language in advance and asked for our input. The Republicans included us in the bill development process because they needed our votes and because didn’t want us to blow it up on the floor with our speechifying, as we did with the stingy TANF and teacher raises in 2017.

As someone who worked in public health and nicotine addiction treatment for years, I was proud to serve on the Democratic Caucus team that reviewed the bill and offered suggestions for revision. It was very heartening that they included several Democratic ideas in this bill. Four of my suggestions were included: offering treatment instead of jail during an overdose situation, AKA the 911 Good Samaritan bill (HB2101), which has been proposed by Democrats for four years in a row; providing funds to counties for life-saving NARCAN kits (HB2201); providing a non-commercial treatment referral service; and offering treatment in a brief intervention after an overdose scare (when your doctor says, “You didn’t die this time. Maybe you should quit!”). The Democrats also suggested including the Angel Initiative (where addicts can drop off their drugs and ask for treatment, without fear of arrest) and $10 million for drug addiction treatment services for people not on AHCCCS (Medicaid) or private insurance.

Arizona House Democrats
The House Democratic Caucus hears the opioid bill. Note on the TV screen the Republican Caucus room is nearly empty.

Besides the noisy, armed protesters shouting outside all day, there was an underlying buzz at the Capitol over the opioid bill. The House Democrats had the shortest caucus meeting ever. (We have a reputation for being chatterboxes.) We were ready to vote in the afternoon, but it took the Republicans several hours to reel in their members. All 25 of the House Democrats were on board with the bill. Technically we needed only six Republicans to vote “yes”, but, of course, they’re not going to knowingly pass a bill with a majority Democrat vote. Also, the opioid bill had an emergency clause, which requires a three quarters vote to pass. With an emergency clause, some parts of the bill will go into effect immediately after the signing today.

Some of the Republicans didn’t like the Good Sam 911 bill and fretted over “serial immunity” for drug addicts who call 911. (“If they don’t die, they might call again!” It takes an average of seven attempts to kick a drug addiction, so, yes, they may call more than once.) Others complained about the red caps on prescription opioids, the $10 million in treatment, or just the idea that they had to vote for regulation. The House Democrats took selfies and had Republican Caucus watch parties in our offices to get a handle on what was taking so long. Kudos to Speaker J.D. Mesnard and House Health Committee Chair Heather Carter for fielding wide-ranging questions from their caucus.

Finally, around 7 p.m., after many conversations on the floor and behind closed doors in Speaker Mesnard’s office, we passed the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act.

Stay tuned for more discussion s related to opioids. There are more bills in the works, including a needle exchange bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Tony Rivero. (Watch the archived videos here. The text of my speech is below.)

Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act
Arizona House passes Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act.

Here is the text of my speech when I voted for the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act.

In the 37 years that I have lived in Arizona, I haven’t said this very many times.

But today, I am proud of the Arizona Legislature.

For months, we set aside our politics aside and came together to negotiate a bipartisan bill to tackle the biggest public health problem of our time– the opioid epidemic.

I am thankful to the governor for sharing the opioid bill language with the Democrats in advance.

I am proud to have been a member of the Democratic team that reviewed the bill and offered suggestions.

And I am grateful that some of our ideas have been included in this bill.

Is this bill perfect? No.

Will it be modified in the future? Probably.

Will it save lives? Absolutely, it will save lives.

This bill includes solid public health strategies to tackle addition– like the Angel Initiative, the 911 Good Samaritan provision, and the brief intervention after an overdose.

Members, this is the most important piece of legislation we will ever vote on because of the sheer number of lives we are saving today.

I appreciate everyone’s hard work on this bill. In particular, I want to thank Rep. Heather Carter, the rest of the house Health Committee, and our marvelous staff for working together in a congenial and professional manner. I look forward to working with all of you on future legislation to improve the health and well being of Arizonans.


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