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Lawmakers pass resolution urging Utah AG to sue opioid manufacturers directly

SALT LAKE CITY — Legislators emphasized their focus on opioid addiction this session with a Thursday vote passing a resolution urging Attorney General Sean Reyes to directly sue manufacturers of those drugs.

House Joint Resolution 12 urges Reyes to "immediately and publicly commit to directly filing suit against prescription opioid manufacturers, instead of joining a suit with other plaintiffs, in order to seek the maximum award for damages from prescription opioid manufacturers for the citizens of the state."

The resolution states that opioid manufacturers have played a "clear and reckless role in perpetuating the crisis" of addiction to the substances.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, the resolution's floor sponsor, said Thursday that it is meant as "a wake up call" to Reyes with regard to suing manufacturers directly.

"Right now we find an opioid crisis that I need not describe to you that is wreaking havoc in or state," Dabakis said.

The Senate passed the resolution 26 to 1. Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, cast the only dissenting vote.

The House of Representatives passed HJR12 unanimously last month.

Reyes said at the beginning of the session that Utah is among 41 states involved in combined ongoing civil action, but is also "ready to pull the trigger" on its own lawsuit in case manufacturers are properly cooperating.

Despite HJR12's easy passage, a pair of bills which would have significant policy implications related to opioid prescriptions failed to get enough support during the session.

HB260, which would allow specified law enforcement officers to request doctor prescribing data from the state Division of Professional Licensing without a warrant, was defeated in the Senate this week a few days after heated debate in committee over whether it violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Senate vote was 9-18.

HB446, which would make it a class B misdemeanor for a person not to report that a "health practitioner is involved in diversion and knowingly fails to report the diversion to (police)," stalled in committee late last month after several concerns were raised about how it could be interpreted.

HB400, which instructs doctors to discuss the risk of opioid addiction with patients prior to prescribing, passed the House but got demoted from the reading calendar at the Senate to that body's Rules Committee.

However, HB399, which requires that pharmacists affix opioid addiction warning labels to prescriptions, passed both the Senate and the House unanimously.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 4, which warns about the potential for prescribed opioids to fatally depress breathing as a side effect and calls on hospitals and researchers "to collect more data about the risks of taking an opioid after surgery," passed the Legislature without any dissenting votes.