A law that cracks down on opioid prescriptions and goes into effect Monday has earned the support of local groups fighting to address the same problem.
B.G. Kennedy, president of the Sampson County Substance Abuse Coalition, says the STOP Act is one way the growing problem of opioid addiction and overdose deaths can be addressed.
The STOP Act, which stands for the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act, seeks to help curb epidemic levels of opioid drug addiction and overdoses in North Carolina. This act, which was signed into law by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in June, will limit the number of opioids that can be prescribed to patients.
“Opioid addiction and overdose have ravaged the physical and mental health of thousands of North Carolinians, hurting our people and our economy, and we’re taking action to fight it,” Cooper stated at the time he signed the law. “With this legislation and the new State Opioid Action Plan, we’re taking important first steps to stem the opioid epidemic.”
According to the new law, beginning Jan. 1, 2018, prescribers and pharmacies are now required to check the prescription database before prescribing opioids to patients.
Those prescribing the pain medications are to institute a five-day limit on initial prescriptions for acute pain. The limit will not apply to those who are prescribed pain medication for chronic pain, cancer care, palliative care, hospice care or medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse disorders. Physicians can refill the prescription at their discretion.
“The limit will help reduce the amount of unused medication tucked away in the medicine cabinets of many homes,” Kennedy explained. “The requirements that pharmacies must report all prescriptions for opioids to The North Carolina Controlled Substances Reporting System will have a positive impact.”
The idea behind the law is to reduce the chances that patients will become addicted to the medications and to reduce the number of pills being sent home with people who may not actually need them or take them.
Addiction often begins after a person is prescribed pain medication for a legitimate surgery or injury. As the person takes the medication, their tolerance level increases, leading them to require more medication to get the same feeling as the first time the drug was used. Once doctors cut off the prescription, individuals often resort to buying pills off the street.
As part of the STOP Act, doctors and pharmacies have new requirements to report all prescriptions to the state’s controlled substance reporting database, which keeps track of all opioid prescriptions written to patients. The database, which isn’t being widely used now, will allow medical professionals the ability to keep track of who is getting what drugs so people addicted aren’t able to “doctor shop” and get drugs from multiple physicians.
“The additional requirements that physicians must review the system before initially prescribing opioids will help identify people struggling with addiction in the initial stages of the disease,” Kennedy pointed out. “I believe more communication among those providing the medications, along with more treatment options, will help people suffering with addiction to regain control of their lives.”
According to Courtney Boyette, community relations specialist for Eastpointe, the CSRS is a system that monitors the kind and amount of pain medication prescribed to each individual. Use of the system has not been mandatory, only highly encouraged for those physicians prescribing narcotic medication. The STOP Act will change that, making not only reporting the prescription a requirement, but checking the system a requirement as well.
The opioid crisis in North Carolina has claimed more than 12,000 lives since 1999. According to information provided by the local Health Department, Sampson County was among those counties with the highest number of overdose deaths in all of North Carolina in 2014.
In 2016, there were 72 people treated locally for an unintentional opioid overdose — 15 more than just one year earlier.
Sampson County is surrounded by some of the worst cities in America for opioid abuse, including Wilmington and Fayetteville, according to data gathered from research on employer-based insurance. Its central location to these cities brings more drugs into Sampson County, increasing the likelihood of drug overdose deaths.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.