Arizona governor signs law he sought to target opioid abuse

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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed a sweeping new law designed to crack down on opioid abuse and cut the number of overdose deaths.

The event at the state Capitol rotunda came less than a day after the Legislature unanimously approved the measure to end a four-day special session called by the Republican governor.

[READ MORE: Arizona Legislature passes law tackling rising opioid crisis]

Ducey's package limits opioids to an initial five-day supply in most cases, boosts pain clinic regulation and adds $10 million to help uninsured and underinsured people get addiction treatment. It also requires doctors to use electronic prescriptions starting next year to limit forgeries, among a host of other provisions.

[WATCH: Ducey signs Opioid Epidemic Act into law]

Before Thursday's votes, some majority Republican lawmakers voiced concern about unintended consequences for patients needing pain-killing drugs. They also worried about costs to doctors of moving to electronic opioid prescriptions and a good Samaritan provision.

[RELATED: Arizona plan to combat opioids would limit dosages, amounts]

Ducey said he believes the legislation is solid but was open to changes if problems come up as it is implemented. The new law will take effect mid-summer, with a delay for some provisions.

"If we do need to come back and have changes I'm right here and we have a sitting Legislature," Ducey told reporters following a signing ceremony in the state Capitol Rotunda. "But we think this is the right package."

Democrats hailed the $10 million for addiction treatment they got into the law and say the bi-partisan effort should be copied in upcoming budget discussions.

[READ MORE: Gov. Ducey calls for more school funding, new opioid law]

Democrats also said targeting opioids was only the first step for them, pointing to the state's harsh sentencing laws for drug possession that they say calls for criminal justice reforms.

"Drug crimes are the single largest category of offense in our state prison system," Democratic Rep. Reginald Bolding said before voting Thursday evening, citing statistics from the Arizona chapter of American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that advocates for criminal justice reform and prisoners. "Currently, a drug crime is the highest charge for more than one-fifth of the prison population."

Ducey questioned those numbers, but they are backed up by a Department of Corrections report that shows drug possession and sales convictions make up more than 20 percent of the prison population.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Opioid crisis in Arizona]

"We've worked very hard in our administration to reduce recidivism, to make sure after someone has serves their time, paid their debt and is lawfully released that they can find a job and an opportunity and they can find a second chance," Ducey said. "I am open-minded to looking at further reforms around that."

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Politics]

Republican Senate President Steve Yarbrough also questioned the statistics Bolding cited and said criminal justice reform isn't on his list of priorities.

"I'm not sure about the accuracy of that number, but that's another issue for another day," he said.

Ducey declared an opioid emergency in June and the state Health Services Department put in place real-time overdose reporting rules. Between June 15 and Dec. 28, 2017, the department tracked more than 4,900 suspected overdoses, 716 suspected deaths and hundreds of babies born addicted to opioids.

[RELATED: Report: Highest opioid overdose deaths in AZ in 10 years]

Ducey shot down concerns from some lawmakers that pain patients could be left without the medicine they need.

"This bill is about people that are dying, people that are overdosing, people that are becoming addicted," he said. "Citizens that need this product for chronic pain relief, cancer recovery, burn victims, are going to be able to get it."

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