The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 26, 2013

Senate approves bill to put limits on hydrocodone

CHARLESTON — In another attack in the war on drugs, senators agreed Monday to enact legislation that limits hydrocodone prescriptions to 30-day supplies and two refills.

Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, termed the pain medication “one of the most abused substances we have in West Virginia,” just before passage of SB11.

In two other key matters, the Senate passed, by identical 34-0 votes, an update in the public-private transportation projects law and changes in how children testify in court.

“It is a crisis in West Virginia,” Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, said of the drug scourge, noting it has occupied much of West Virginia’s time and energy in recent years.

All the while, Jenkins pointed out, members of West Virginia’s delegation in Congress sought to elevate hydrocodone-associated products to Schedule II, a designation now reserved for pure hydrocodone.

While the initial sentiment was to make that happen on the state level — a resolution to that effect was approved in the health and human resources panel — Jenkins said the judiciary committee moved to make it harder to get big quantities of the drug.

“So, hopefully, we’re not going to have medicine cabinets having four, six, eight months’ supply,” he said. “They’re only going to have a 30-day supply.”

Even so, Jenkins pointed out, doctors could call in refills, as needed.

A Schedule III drug has the potential for abuse and low-to-moderate physical dependence, he said. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration website agrees, and it says a Schedule II drug has a high potential for abuse and is considered dangerous.

“This is an important step in addressing this crisis, by curtailing the availability and massive quantities and making sure people are taking them medically,” Jenkins added.

Meanwhile, children could have a toy, the support of a friend, or even a security blanket a la Linus while testifying in domestic relations, abuse and neglect and criminal matters under SB461.

In all but criminal cases, Palumbo explained, the court can accommodate a child by adjusting the timing of the testimony.

Formalities can be relaxed, and counsel can be appointed for pro se litigants who want to question a child, the judiciary chairman said.

The requirement of a two-way live camera system can be eliminated when closed circuit testimony is allowed. The reasoning is that more than an ordinary case of nerves is associated in such testimony.

Palumbo said the measure also strikes the ability of a defendant to remove himself from the courtroom to force a child to testify.

Restrictions on the use of state highway dollars in private/public transportation projects when they exceed $20 million is removed under SB190, Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, explained.

The sunset provision is extended from July 1 this year to July 1, 2016. And it removes a requirement that each agreement must pass muster before the Legislature and governor.

Prezioso told Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, that projects embracing a four-lane near the federal prison in his district would be allowed.

“There’s no limit,” he said. “It has to be over $20 million, but there is no ceiling.”

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