RALEIGH — Beginning in 2018, opioids will be harder to come by in North Carolina.
On June 29, House Bill 243, the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevent, or STOP Act, was signed into law. The law makes sweeping changes, some of which go into effect immediately, and others that take longer-range aim at the opioid epidemic.
One of the most scopious changes has to do with the length of an initial opioid prescription. Beginning January 1, 2018, initial prescriptions for painkillers like Percocet will be limited to a five-day supply, or seven days for post-operative pain. Acute pain is defined as anything less than three months, so the regulation won’t apply to conditions like cancer, but it will pertain to medical situations like broken bones, childbirth, work injuries, or car accidents.
Don Sorrow, program director at Southeastern Carolina Crossroads in Bladen County, recently spoke about the participants the men’s residential drug rehabilitation center is seeing.
“In the last year alone, I would say 75 percent of the people who have come through here have been addicted to opioids,” he commented. “It used to be crack and meth, but now opioids are the major problem.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration, opioids are powerful pain-reducing medications that include drugs like morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, which are sold under brand names like Norco, Vicodin, OxyContin, Diluadid, Duragesic, and Percocet. The drugs act on opioid receptors found in the central and peripheral nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. Opiates — or drugs derived from opium, like morphine — are included in the category, but the term opioids is a broader word encompassing not just naturally-derived opiates, but synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs as well.
Opioids are primarily used for pain relief but are prescribed for a variety of purposes. Coughing, diarrhea, and constipation are just a few of the human non-pain conditions treated with opioids, and veterinarians sometimes use the drugs to immobilize large animals.
On a weaker scale, they can even be found over the counter. The drug codeine, found in some cough medications, is a weak form of hydrocodone.
The new law is an attempt to curb the opioid crisis being seen across the country but found particularly problematic in North Carolina. Wilmington was recently named the worst city in the country for opioid abuse — Fayetteville, Jacksonville, and Hickory also made the top 20 list.
Locally, Bladen County is contributing to the problem as well. According to the N.C. Department of Public Health, opioid overdoses increased 600 percent in Bladen County from 2000 to 2014.
Passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, the law seeks, in part, to abate abuse by limiting availability. Previously, anyone receiving 30 days’ worth of painkillers — but only needing them for five days — opened up the possibilities of either taking unnecessary pills themselves and becoming addicted, or feeding the black market by selling the extras for cash.
Sorrow said most of the men in his program got started on opioids because they “didn’t need the extras they were prescribed.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.