Published 10:01 am Monday, March 6, 2017

RALEIGH – Citing the sad facts that four North Carolinians die each day from overdose, legislation was unveiled Thursday in the state General Assembly to address the rapid rise in drug abuse, specifically the sharp increase in heroin and prescription opioid abuse.

The STOP Act, formally the Strengthen Opioid misuse Prevention Act, was introduced with companion bills in the State House and Senate. This legislation will ensure smarter prescribing and smarter dispensing of highly-addictive prescription drugs.

The bill also includes $20 million for treatment and recovery over two years.

State House Representative Greg Murphy, a physician in Greenville, was among the main sponsors of this proposed legislation.

“I am proud and humbled to sponsor landmark legislation that will lead all the major stakeholders in the battle against the tragic opioid epidemic in North Carolina,” Murphy stated.

“The opioid epidemic is destroying families across North Carolina,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. “As I travel the state, I regularly hear gut-wrenching stories about this issue. Smarter prescribing practices will reduce the number of people who become addicted, while funding treatment and recovery will help those who are currently struggling. I am confident that together we can make progress combating this crisis.”

Jim Davis, who represents seven western counties in the State Senate, has spent nearly two years working to fine-tune the STOP Act legislation.

“Prescription drug addiction is a crisis that affects every corner of our state and claimed the lives of close to 1,400 North Carolinians in 2015 alone,” said Davis. “It is one of the gravest challenges we face as a state, which is why it is so important that we pass this bipartisan solution, tackle this epidemic and help save human lives.”

As part of a Thursday press conference to introduce the legislation, supporters pointed out that over 125 individuals are rushed each day to a hospital emergency room due to non-fatal drug overdoes.

The most innocent victims are the babies of opioid users. Studies show that one in every 100 babies born in North Carolina is addicted. They will suffer seizures, rapid breathing, fevers and vomiting.

Additional studies into prescription opioids revealed that more than 705 million pain pills are dispersed each year across the state. While taken as prescribed, those pills assist those suffering from pain due to a variety of ailments or following surgery. It’s when those pills are misused that individuals become addicted or, in worst case scenarios, turn to illegal drugs such as heroin.

Sheriff’s offices in the Roanoke-Chowan area and across the state are seeing a rapid rise in the number of arrests involving heroin.

“Heroin use today rivals the crack cocaine epidemic we started seeing back in the 1990’s,” said Hertford County Sheriff Dexter Hayes. “It (heroin) is by far the most additive drug of them all.”

The key provisions of the STOP Act include:

Reduce “doctor shopping” and improve care with required checks of a statewide prescription database.

Before prescribing controlled substances, a doctor, dentist, or other prescriber must check the Controlled Substance Reporting System (CSRS) to learn of a patient’s other prescriptions. This check is allowed but not required for cancer treatment, palliative care, hospice care, drugs administered in a health care or residential facility, or prescriptions for five or fewer days (or seven or fewer days after surgery).

Reduce unused, misused, and diverted pills with a five-day limit on initial prescriptions for acute pain.

A prescriber may not prescribe more than a five-day supply of a controlled substance (or a seven-day supply after surgery) when first treating a patient for acute pain. This requirement does not apply to cancer care, palliative care, hospice care, or medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders.

Reduce fraud through e-prescribing. A prescriber must electronically prescribe controlled substances to reduce fraud stemming from stolen prescription pads or forged prescriptions – except for drugs administered by the prescriber or drugs administered in a health care or residential facility.

Veterinarians who prescribe controlled substances must register and report to CSRS to enable detection of drug diversion by pet owners.

Physician assistants and nurse practitioners must consult their supervising physicians the first time they prescribe controlled substances and every 90 days thereafter.

The Department of Health & Human Services will audit doctor, dentist, and other prescriber use of CSRS and report violations to appropriate licensing boards.

The Act expands use of data to detect and prevent fraud and misuse.

The Act creates a fund to support CSRS with an annual fee on prescribers.

All pharmacies dispensing controlled substances must register for and report to CSRS – consistent with the current practice of most pharmacies.

Pharmacies dispensing controlled substances must report to CSRS within 24 hours of each transaction – down from the current requirement of 72 hours but consistent with the current practice of many pharmacies.

Pharmacies must consult the CSRS before dispensing a controlled substance when there is reason to suspect fraud, misuse or diversion and consult the prescriber when there is reason to believe the prescription is fraudulent or duplicative.

Pharmacies are required to remedy missing or incomplete data upon request.

The proposed legislation also promotes a renewed commitment to treatment, recovery and saving lives by the following methods:

The Act appropriates $10 million for FY 2017-18 and $10 million for FY 2018-19 for community-based treatment and recovery services for substance use disorders, including medication-assisted treatment.

The Act facilitates wider distribution of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone by clarifying that standing orders cover not only individuals at risk, family members, law enforcement, and local health departments, but also community health groups.

In addition, the Act underscores that no state funds may be used to support needle exchange programs, but does not preclude a local government from supporting such a program in its community.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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