NH Senate backs opioid warning label

Bill would require removable sticker on cap

The New Hampshire Senate, in the face of opposition from drug companies, passed a bill Thursday that would require pharmacists to put a warning label on opioids.

A floor amendment to House Bill 359 would change the warning from a red cap to a removable orange label, in deference to fears that the former would be a red flag for people who want to steal or otherwise use opioids illegally.

But that wasn’t enough for the pharmaceutical industry, which wanted to make the labels voluntary and urged counseling and brochures instead.

“These are the healthcare experts,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, rattling off a list of pharmacist groups, which, along with the New Hampshire Hospital Association, signed a letter in favor of a voluntary program “that they can buy into.”

The law already makes labels voluntary, countered Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, a physician himself. But less than 10 percent of pharmacists do it, he said, adding that 30 percent of patients are not aware they are being prescribed opioids, despite a recent law requiring physicians to counsel them.

A sticker that a patient could remove was a compromise – “a last-ditch effort, a last crack at a warning them that this is dangerous stuff,” said Sherman. He proceeded to rattle off organizations that support mandatory labeling, like the New Hampshire Medical Society.

The Senate passed the bill, 22-1. The House, which had passed the bill on a voice vote, will have to agree to the amendment before it goes to the governor.

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