Squabbles over ‘poison pill’ and herbal remedy resolved to approve Haslam’s opioid bills

Final legislative approval of Gov. Bill Haslam’s two bills dealing with opioid addiction came Wednesday after the House and Senate resolved squabbles over details that had gained little public attention but touched of heated arguments among lawmakers.

In one case, the administration bill dealing primarily with law enforcement and drug laws (HB1832), a House-Senate conference committee worked out a compromise. The split was over kratom, used as a herbal remedy to treat opioid addiction and other ailments. At the federal level, the FDA hasn’t approved it as a medication but hasn’t prohibited it.

The administration wanted to prohibit sale and possession of kratom, which is now legal. The House stripped that provision out of the bill, heeding contentions that the substance was basically harmless at worst and, at best, has helped many people overcome addiction and other medical problems. The Senate put the prohibition back in, heeding contentions that kratom is addictive and has caused severe problems – including the death of a 25-year-old man blamed by his Mt. Juliet mother on kratom in a letter read on the Senate floor.

The conference committee compromise prohibits persons under age 21 from possessing kratom and requires a warning label be affixed to containers when sold. Both chambers approved  late the conference committee version late Wednesday.

Conflict on the other bill (HB1831) — promoted primarily as dealing with prevention and treatment — came over a Senate vote to delete a provision requiring prescriptions for opioids to include on the label a code used by medical professionals that gives the underlying diagnosis of whatever ailment underlies the prescription. Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), a physician, led the push to delete the requirement, contending it was unnecessary, created more bureaucratic paperwork in a measure that already is “burdensome” and could be an invasion of patient privacy. Sponsor Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), a pharmacist, countered that the code provided needed information in assuring validity of a prescription and tracking it.

The bill was bounced back and forth between the two chambers, both initially refusing to back off their position. But ultimately, the Senate gave in — after Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris depicted the earlier Senate action as a “poison pill” that would kill the entire bill — and went along with requiring the labeling code – sending the bill to the governor in basically the form he wanted. Nineteen senators voted to drop the chamber’s earlier stance.

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