Four people a day are dying from overdoses related to opioids-pain medication and heroin. This is a sad, startling statistic here in North Carolina: sad because it is so unfortunate and startling because many think the deaths can be prevented.
On the Friday, March 3 “What Matters in North Carolina” podcast, Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Pitt) shared that statistic, along with the startling fact that last month in Craven County 29 people died of overdoses. These stark realities point to an epidemic in the state that Murphy, who is the only physician in the state House of Representatives, is determined to stop.
Murphy said North Carolina has four of the top 15 cities in the United States most affected by opioid abuse, with Wilmington being the top in the state. He also said, “It’s gotten to the point where enough is enough. We have to confront this.”
To that end, he has filed HB243, the “Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.” The bill addresses prescription amounts for opioid pain medication that will be allowed if the bill passes, as well as required use of the NC Controlled Substance Recording System.
Many folks start out taking pain medicines such as Percocet or OxyContin, and then when they can’t get them anymore, they may find it cheaper to get heroin and/or fentanyl. Murphy said the drug potencies of fentanyl and heroin are much different, causing people to risk overdose because they don’t know understand the dosages of the various drugs.
The idea behind Murphy’s bill is to stem the risk of addiction by limiting the amount of opioid medication a patient can be prescribed initially. (Murphy stressed that in no way was his bill aimed at those with chronic or long-term pain). Under the bill, a patient prescribed opioids due to an injury could receive up to five days of the medication initially, and a post-surgery patient could get the drugs up to seven days.
Also proposed in Murphy’s bill is required use of the NC Controlled Substance Recording System. Murphy said, “Any time that I write a narcotic or any controlled substance, it goes into a database. The problem is a lot of physicians don’t have the time, don’t have the knowledge, or have not signed up to query that database to say: ‘Is this person someone that’s doctor shopping or is the fourth prescription they’ve gotten for this disorder from different doctors, etc.?’, which I’ve found out is the case sometimes.” The bill will make it a requirement that every time a scheduled drug is prescribed the provider must query the system.
A pharmacist who agreed to provide information confidentially for this story said doctors’ offices often say that they are too busy to run a check on a patient after the pharmacist notices multiple prescriptions for opioid medications from different doctors.
The bill will also require pharmacists to use the system when filling prescriptions. Murphy said this requirement is different from what is currently required at the federal level, which already has many regulations of controlled pain medications.
Veterinarians are also included in the list of providers who will need to check the database. Murphy said there are cases of people receiving prescriptions for pain medication for a pet or a farm animal after a surgery and that medication has ended up on the street. He said, “While it’s a little bit of a reach for veterinarians, we’re still throwing out a big net.”
The bill appropriates $20 million to help with community treatment and recovery services for those already dealing with addiction.
The House Health Committee reviewed the bill on Wednesday, March 8 in a “discussion only” format. NC Attorney General Josh Stein addressed the committee, reporting that in the last five years in North Carolina there has been an 880 percent increase in deaths from heroin and fentanyl.
Stein said, “Our state can and must address this crisis and the STOP Act is an important first step.” He urged the committee to pass the bill.
Murphy concluded that education at the community level is the most effective way to combat the epidemic of opioid abuse.
Click here to listen to the entire “What Matters in North Carolina” interview with Rep. Murphy.