INDIANAPOLIS – State lawmakers passed bills to counter the epidemic of prescription drug abuse, protect the telephone privacy of consumers, combat human trafficking and encourage prompt medical intervention for young people in certain emergencies, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said today.
Zoeller publicly thanked several legislators, including State Sen. Jim Merritt, Sen. Patricia Miller, Rep. David Frizzell and Rep. Mike Speedy, all R-Indianapolis, as well as Sen. Jean D. Breaux, Rep. Christina Hale and Rep. Dan Forestal, all D-Indianapolis, Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, and Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, for their support of consumer protection and public safety bills that passed during the Legislature’s 2014 session.
“Before session my office had recommended several proposals for new laws that would help improve the health and safety of Hoosiers by strengthening existing law and addressing some problems that plague consumers. To their credit, legislators of both parties and both houses worked collaboratively to pass these bills,” Zoeller said. The Attorney General thanked legislators for the following:
SEA 227: Lifeline Law
Originally passed in 2012 at the urging of college students, the Lifeline Law encourages young people to call 911 if someone suffers alcohol poisoning and makes the caller immune from criminal charges related to underage drinking. This year, Sen. Merritt authored Senate Enrolled Act 227, expanding the Lifeline Law to extend immunity from prosecution if underage callers seek help for other types of medical emergencies such as concussions, or are a victim of a sexual assault, or witness and report a crime.
Zoeller recommended wording in SEA 227 that encourages first responders – including law enforcement and firefighters – to be equipped with Naloxone, a medication that counteracts the effects of an opioid drug overdose. It will remove legal barriers to first responders utilizing the antidote to save patients’ lives.
“Unfortunately, binge drinking among young people – especially on college campuses – is rampant. We’re making every effort to discourage underage drinking and alert our youth about the dangers of overconsumption, but there’s always going to be a 17- or 18-year-old who makes a mistake. Our laws need to make it clear that when mistakes are made and lives are at risk, calling 911 is a no brainer,” Merritt said.
SEA 227 also initiates a comprehensive study into the causes of the high rate of sexual abuse of children in Indiana, an amendment Rep. Hale originally proposed. “One out of six girls in Indiana has been raped or sexually assaulted and untold numbers of boys have been victimized as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Indiana is the second worst state in the country in that statistic. This study, provided by Senate Bill 227, will provide a wealth of information to combat the problem and connect victims with the services they desperately need,” Hale said.
HEA 1218, HEA 1360 and SEA 408: Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force
The Indiana Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force that the Attorney General co-chairs has for two years studied the rampant health problem of Hoosiers becoming addicted to opioid drugs such as prescription pain medications. The task force recommended bills the Legislature passed:
- Intended to deter prescription drug abuse that might be facilitated by overprescribing by providers, the Indiana Scheduled Prescription Electronic Collection and Tracking Program, or INSPECT, is a database the state has operated for several years that tracks the dispensing of certain addictive controlled substances. So that the database is kept updated in a timely manner, the task force recommended House Enrolled Act 1218, which requires pharmacists to provide dispensing information to INSPECT on certain opioid drugs – within three days, starting July 1, 2015, and within 24 hours, starting January 1, 2016. HEA 1218 includes additional privacy protections to ensure the confidentiality of patients’ prescription records.
- Mindful of patients already addicted, another of the task force’s recommendations was to address Indiana’s shortage of mental health professionals and addiction treatment professionals. To encourage more of these professionals to practice in Indiana, House Enrolled Act 1360 offers up to five years of student loan forgiveness grants to psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, addiction counselors and mental health professionals who are pursuing addiction training in behavioral health and addiction psychiatry -- provided they practice their specialty within the state.
- The task force also reviewed the problem of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS, where newborns exposed to prescription or illicit drugs while in the womb suffer from withdrawal symptoms including respiratory complications, low birth weight, feeding difficulties and seizures. Senate Enrolled Act 408 establishes a standard clinical definition of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and directs the Indiana State Department of Health to meet with various medical and pediatric stakeholders, to develop recommendations regarding diagnosis and screening and reporting of statistics of NAS that will be presented to the Legislative Council no later than November 1, 2014. SEA 408 also allows ISDH before June 1, 2015, to establish pilot programs with hospitals to put the NAS recommendations into practice. Sen. Breaux was a co-author of SEA 408 and Rep. Frizzell was a co-sponsor.
Sen. Breaux, assistant Senate Democratic leader, believes SEA 408 is a much-needed step toward turning around Indiana’s alarmingly high infant mortality rate and combating neonatal abstinence syndrome. “The first step is a more comprehensive understanding of the scope of this issue. When stakeholders have the right information, we can help mothers deliver healthier babies and save taxpayer dollars in the long run,” Sen. Breaux said.
SEA 349 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 16: Telephone Privacy
Operated by the Attorney General's Office, Indiana’s Do Not Call List program now has more than 2.3 million phone numbers registered by Hoosier consumers who do not want to be pestered with nuisance sales calls.
Telemarketers are required by law to abide by the list and not contact registered numbers or face civil penalties. In 2013 there were nearly 14,000 complaints from consumers who received unwanted telemarketing calls despite being on the list; and recently some companies have exploited technology to circumvent or evade the Do Not Call law. One typical scenario: A company selling a product or service does not cold-call directly but instead uses a third-party company as a lead generator to place unwanted robo-calls and then transfer the calls to the original company. Senate Enrolled Act 349, authored by Merritt, updates Indiana’s statute to prohibit that practice, meaning companies that violate it will be subject to civil penalties.
“Because of advancing technology, Hoosiers registered on Indiana’s Do Not Call list are still exposed to scams and automated solicitations. By adapting state law to these new telemarketing methods, we can ensure the Do Not Call list remains current and effective,” Sen. Merritt said.
In a related effort, the Legislature and Attorney General are urging the Federal Communications Commission to take more seriously the problem of robo-calls generated from outside the United Sates. A large portion of illegal calls telemarketers make involve robo-calls generated using technology that can blast more than 30,000 calls per hour to Indiana residents, Zoeller said. Due to jurisdictional hurdles, state governments do not have legal authority to prosecute illegal robo-calls originating overseas; it’s a federal responsibility. Senate Concurrent Resolution 16 is a formal official request made by the Legislature, asking the FCC at the federal level to more aggressively regulate telemarketing calls and robo-calls that violate Hoosiers’ telephone privacy. Now that the Legislature has passed it, SCR-16 will be officially transmitted by the state Senate to the FCC as a statement of the State’s position. Sen. Delph was author of SCR-16, and Rep. Speedy was House sponsor.
“Many constituents have asked for additional help to Indiana’s Do Not Call list to provide relief from unwanted phone calls, especially at night and on weekends. In working with our Indiana AG, it became clear to me that we need support from the FCC in Washington, D.C., given the advances in technology and mobility of call centers overseas. It is my hope SCR-16 will get the ball rolling so that we can reinforce Indiana’s Do Not Call list with FCC support,” Sen. Delph said.
SEA 394: Consumer Protection
The Attorney General’s Office’s offers a free “security freeze” to consumers to protect their credit record against identity theft. For anyone considered a “protected consumer” (a child under 16 or mentally disabled adult) who is also at risk of having their identity stolen, Rep. Forestal's amendment to Senate Enrolled Act 394 makes it easier for the protected consumer's parent or guardian to protect their identity by obtaining a security freeze on their behalf.
“The amendment I offered to this session’s consumer protection bill enables parents to protect their children from identity thieves. Mothers and fathers will be able to place a ‘freeze’ on their children’s credit records. That safeguard is also extended to legal guardians of people with disabilities. Protection of Hoosiers from identity theft, especially our most vulnerable, must always be a priority for our state,” Rep. Forestal said.
Zoeller expressed gratitude to legislators of both parties and both houses who passed the bills, which now go to the Governor’s desk.