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Georgia Senate backs opioid and health care proposals

ATLANTA — A proposal to create an opioid study committee and crack down on scammers who prey on addicts has sailed through the Georgia Senate.

Senators on Wednesday voted 53-0 to pass Sen. Renee Unterman’s measure aimed at combating the opioid crisis. It now awaits House input.

The Buford Republican’s bill would have a commission further study the epidemic and seek grant money to fund nonprofit recovery programs across Georgia.

The proposal increases penalties for health care providers that offer illegal kickbacks to “patient brokers” who lure addicts to unscrupulous treatment centers.

Any “commission, benefit, bonus, rebate, kickback or bribe, directly or indirectly” to “induce the referral” of a person between health care providers or treatment centers would be illegal.

The Senate also quickly approved a bill to create a Health Coordination and Innovation Council. The group would examine how to improve health care in the state, especially in rural areas. Both bills are supported by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, previously told The Times he applauded the work to tackle the opioid epidemic.

“A lot of people are going to have to play a role in this, not just the addict, not just the family, not just the doctors, not just the communities,”Miller said. “It’s going to take everyone working together.”

The second section of the opioid bill would create a governor-appointed “director of substance abuse, addiction and related disorders” who would oversee a 15-member commission on substance abuse and recovery.

The commission includes the commissioners of public health, community health and human services in addition to law enforcement officials and appointed representatives.

The commission’s tasks would include coordinating overdose data, consulting with other state agencies, providing recommendations on a potential Medicaid waiver for opioid abuse, creating a block grant program, developing education plans and expanding access to “appropriate prevention, treatment and recovery support services.”