Omaha Sen. Sara Howard has a display in her office at the Capitol of the prescriptions her sister, Carrie, took in the last five months of her life.
On the table are 12 bottles that had been filled with the pills Carrie took in March of 2009, the month she died of an opioid overdose. Eleven bottles in February. Ten bottles in January. Five in December, nine in November.
The number of pills she consumed from those bottles equaled 4,500, prescribed for back pain.
Sara Howard, and her mother — former Sen. Gwen Howard — have made it their mission that others don't have to go through the heartbreak of losing a loved one to opioid addiction.
She was joined in that mission this session by Sens. Brett Lindstrom and John Kuehn, who also introduced bills to help address the opioid addiction crisis. And Monday, 47 senators voted to advance Howard's bill (LB931), amended with two others (LB933 and LB934), from first-round debate.
The bill would:
* Generally prohibit medical practitioners prescribing opioid pain relievers for a patient younger than 18 from prescribing more than a seven-day supply;
* In order to prescribe more than a seven-day supply for a minor, the practitioner would be required to document the patient's condition and record that a non-opiate alternative was not appropriate to address the medical condition;
* Medical practitioners would be required to discuss with the patient or a parent or guardian the reason for the prescription and the risks associated with opioid use;
* Require a photo ID to pick up opioid prescriptions, except for licensed health care facilities.
Opioid addiction begins, for the most part, with a prescription pad, a pen and a health care provider, Kuehn said. Combating the crisis that has crippled so many families and communities must go back to what happens within the interaction between a provider and a patient.
Kuehn said he had a friend who went home from having a crown put on a tooth with a prescription for 20 oxycodone, an opioid painkiller. And a family member was receiving prescriptions for pain medication after an orthopedic procedure, when he wasn't completing or filling the ones he already had.
"I, myself, have received prescriptions for controlled substances and my physicians, great people though they are, never once said a word to me about the risk of addiction, never once asked me if I was taking any other opioid pain medications, or even if I had any sensitivities," Kuehn said.
The bill allows unpleasant and uncomfortable truths about what has led to opioid addictions to be confronted with "civil candor and a reasonable solution forward," Kuehn said.
Doctors' and pharmacists' concerns about the bill would be addressed in an amendment, he said.
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist said Howard, Lindstrom and Kuehn have done a lot of work and have a lot of passion about addressing opioid addiction.
"The opioid epidemic may not be as violent or as oppressive as it is on the East Coast, but just like other things ... it's moving this direction," Krist said. "It's here and we need to take the necessary steps to stop it."
Sen. Tyson Larson introduced an amendment to the bill while it was being debated, in order to make a point about a voter ID bill he prioritized. Larson's amendment would have allowed for a state ID card to be provided at no cost, because it's possible that people would be denied a prescription without a valid ID.
"We continue to hear from individuals, like Sen. (Adam) Morfeld, on this floor that one of the main reasons to go against voter ID is the cost of access to people displaying their fundamental right of voting," Larson said.
Morfeld responded that it was nonsense for Larson to bring up the voter ID issue, comparing apples to oranges both legally and logically, "when we're talking about Nebraskans that are dying every single day from opioid overdoses, many of which go unreported. ... Disgraceful."
Kuehn said, with apologies, that if there's any question as to why people hate politicians, it's stunts such as Larson's that devalue the work the Legislature is trying to do.
"It is disturbing and counterproductive in every way," Kuehn said.
After discussion on the amendment, Larson withdrew his amendment.