RALEIGH — North Carolina residents may soon find it harder to get their hands on painkillers.
Last week, the North Carolina House of Representatives gave its stamp of approval to House Bill 243, the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevent, or STOP, Act. Passed unanimously, the bill proposes regulations to crack down on the opioid epidemic sweeping North Carolina.
“‘Epidemic’ is the right word,” said Don Sorrow, program director at Carolina Crossroads, a drug rehabilitation center in Elizabethtown. “In the last year alone, I would say 75 percent of the people who have come through here have been addicted to opioids. It used to be crack and meth, but now opioids are the major problem.”
Studies corroborate what Sorrow is seeing.
In April of 2016, Castlight Health, a San Francisco-based health care information company, released a study naming the worst 25 cities in the country for opioid abuse, and four North Carolina cities made the list, three of them near the coast. Wilmington was ranked the nation’s worst city for opioid abuse, while Fayetteville, Jacksonville and Hickory also made the top 20. According to the N.C. Department of Public Health, from 2000 to 2014, opioid overdoses increased 600 percent in Bladen County.
Sorrow, who is a former addict himself, said the problem is with availability.
“When I was using years ago, you could only find them in major cities like Charlotte or Durham, but now you can find them anywhere you want — they’re all over Bladen County,” he explained.
For acute pain, the STOP Act would limit initial prescriptions for opioids like Percocet 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 wouldn’t apply to conditions like cancer, but would cover things like broken bones, childbirth, car accidents, or work injuries.
“I think that’s a great thing,” said Sorrow. “Most of these guys didn’t need the long-term medication they were prescribed.”
Bruce Dickerson, pharmacist and owner of Dickerson Pharmacy in Elizabethtown, sees an additional benefit.
“Physicians get a lot of pressure from patients to refill prescriptions,” he explained. “They’ll be able to say they can’t or they’re legally bound to give this amount.”
As the bill is currently worded, however, it applies to all Schedule II and Schedule III drugs, which includes things like Ritalin and Adderall. Dickerson said pharmacist groups have encouraged lawmakers to limit the five-day restriction to opiates in order to eliminate unnecessary burdens on other patients.
“When you try to combat something like this, there’s always going to be a burden on innocent people,” he said. “Overall, it’s a good bill, but there will be some bumps along the way.”
In addition to limiting prescription supplies, HB243 would do away with handwritten prescriptions and require them to be entered via an electronic system. The system’s purpose is to eliminate doctor or pharmacy shopping, but currently, providers have the option of using it for opiates.
“Forcing providers to use the system will hopefully decrease the chances of having prescriptions forged,” commented Dickerson.
The STOP Act also appropriates $10 million for government health services to combat opioid addiction, establishes civil penalties for improper reporting of the drugs, requires veterinarians to participate in the reporting system, and allows for standing orders for opiate antagonists for community health centers.
“Anything we can do to cut down on the availability of these drugs, we need to do,” Sorrow said.
House Bill 243 is now under consideration in the N.C. Senate.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by callgin 910-862-4163.