The General Assembly passed key pieces of legislation this year to combat this issue of opioid abuse in Tennessee communities. The bills passed this session built upon action taken in the 2018 session. Last year efforts included legislation providing for more effective law enforcement, treatment, and prevention to address the epidemic. The state ranks third in the nation for opioid prescribing and fourth for overdose deaths. This is a growing problem and I am pleased that the legislature is taking the proper course of action to fight this issue.
Strengthening Penalties / Fentanyl -- The General Assembly voted this year to strengthen penalties for trafficking fentanyl, carfentanil, sufentanil, remifentanil, or any analogues mirroring the same weights used to define punishments for heroin with the passage of SB798. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is used lawfully before surgery as an adjunct to anesthesia and in certain cases for acute pain, like advanced cancer. However, on the streets, it is commonly mixed with other illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, and counterfeit prescription opioids. The new law, which I co-sponsored in the Senate, makes it a Class B felony to knowingly manufacture, deliver, or sell 15 grams or more of these substances, while penalties would be punishable as a Class A felony if it involves 150 grams or more. Previously, the threshold for a Class A felony for fentanyl was 2,000 grams.
Death Penalty / Fentanyl -- Legislators acted this year to strengthen Tennessee’s death penalty law as it affects offenders who knowingly sell or distribute the most dangerous drugs, including fentanyl, with the intent and premeditation to commit murder. The new statute, SB1368, adds an aggravating circumstance for the imposition of the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole if the defendant knowingly sold or distributed a substance containing fentanyl, carfentanil, or other Schedule II controlled substances.
Opioid Prescribing Practices -- In addition, improvements were made to the TN Together Act passed last year to curb opiate abuse. SB810 removes unintended barriers in the new law that could prevent patients from receiving post-operative and palliative care medications and legitimate and effective pain management treatment, while still keeping opioids out of the hands of abusers. The measure allows providers and patients to voluntarily request a partial fill, while encouraging providers to write prescriptions for the lowest effective amount. It also amends the current twenty-day prescription of opioids for major surgeries to a thirty-day prescription. This action would make the length of opioid prescriptions for three, ten or thirty days. For example, major surgeries such as knee and hip replacements, orthopedic neurological spine surgeries, etc. would fall under thirty-day prescriptions. This ensures that patients who have undergone major surgeries are receiving the pain medication they need to get out of bed, go through physical therapy and heal. Ten-day prescriptions would be used for such surgeries as appendectomies, C-sections, ACL/MCL repairs. Three-day prescriptions would be used for procedures such as tooth extractions or kidney stones.
Opioids / Reducing Overdose – The State Legislature approved SB1384 this year intended to gather more knowledge and awareness regarding the potential benefits of co-prescribing naloxone to patients at risk for overdose. Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is a lifesaving medication that can stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The new law requires the state’s Commissioner of Health, in collaboration with the Chronic Pain Guidelines Committee, to study and determine under what circumstances co-prescribing naloxone with an opioid are beneficial to patients at risk for overdose. The commissioner will then publish the results by January 2020 to each prescribing board that licenses healthcare professionals and could prompt future legislation on the matter.
You May Contact Senator Hensley at
425 5th Avenue North, Suite 746
Nashville TN 37243
Toll Free 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100
855 Summertown Highway
Hohenwald TN 38462
Cell Phone 931-212-8823