At the Arizona House Health and Human Services Committee Meeting on Monday, a Senate bill relating to opioid container labels narrowly passed.
Senate Bill 1254 would repeal the requirement that prescription opioid containers directly dispensed from pharmacies have a red cap. Rep. Amish Shah (D – Gilbert) drafted a three-line amendment to the proposed bill, which states that instead of completely repealing the red cap requirement, containers may have a red cap but must have a warning label. The bill passed the House by a vote of 5-4, and had previously passed through the Senate.
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“Now the pharmacist may choose to give somebody a red cap, or not a red cap, depending on the patient’s preferences and the patient’s circumstances,” Shah said.
Concerns brought up in the last committee meeting about SB 1254 were echoed in the chambers on Monday: individuals may be targets for theft because of the easily identifiable red cap. At the same time, the red cap makes it easily identifiable as an opioid container for patients. Shah’s amendment would tackle both opposing spectrums to allow the patient and pharmacist to decide on an individualized basis.
Sponsor of the bill and registered nurse Sen. Janae Shamp (R – Maricopa) provided insight about how this effort initially came to fruition.
“The whole start of this was the fact that I was having conversations with patients that were being targeted,” Shamp said.
Shamp brought up how after reading Shah’s proposed amendment, she conversed with constituents in her district, who said it was not a bad idea to have the option of wanting a red cap or a white cap, but did not feel like it was necessary.
Laurie Nichol lives in Tempe and provided public testimony in support of the bill as someone who lives with chronic pain. Nichol brought up how the red cap not only acts like a target for those engaged in crime, but also puts her in a vulnerable position when medicating in public. She explained how when she takes her opioids in public, she has to be mindful of hiding the pill bottle in her bag and ensuring the red cap is concealed from those around her.
“It also acts as a scarlet letter to all who see it, especially given prejudice, discrimination, and lies about opiate therapy that Americans are exposed to,” Nichol said.
During the meeting, Rep. Patricia Contreras (D – Maricopa) repeatedly brought up concerns, including that pharmacists may not always ask patients which colored caps they prefer. Following Nichol’s testimony, Contreras said she remained uncomfortable with the bill.
“It’s still a safety issue,” Contreras said. “I think those aren’t legitimate claims.”
Contreras explained how when she carries her medication in public, she puts them in a different container than the original one it was prescribed in. As a result, medications are not as easily accessible for someone to find or steal, she said.
“I do like Dr. Shah’s amendment because it allows for choice, and I’m all about freedom and choice,” Rep. Barbara Parker (R – Pima) said.
Parker emphasized how patients experiencing and living with chronic pain sometimes need prescribed opioids to function, and that should not be stigmatized.
“I, as a patient myself, would like the red cap because to me that would be a good warning and with the Shah amendment, I think that’s something I can ask for to protect my home and my personal life,” Parker said.