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A couple of months ago, I published a story about a former patient of mine who became addicted to prescription pain pills.  It generated a healthy discussion on social media about addiction and potential solutions to the growing problem of opioid abuse in North Carolina. Many of those suggested fixes were not only thoughtful, but sensible.

Since that post, our state has adopted the STOP (Strengthen Opioid misuse Prevention) Act, legally requiring many of the potential solutions readers shared. Gov. Roy Cooper has stated that NC suffered 1,100 opioid-related deaths in 2015, which amounts to three North Carolinians every day. That’s an increase of 73 percent in just ten years.

If current trends continue – and let’s hope they don’t – accidental deaths from opioids will claim more lives in North Carolina than traffic accidents in 2017.The situation is not hopeless. With smart public policy, we can make progress in preventing opioid addiction and deaths.

Here are some of the STOP Act’s requirements for people who write prescriptions:

  • Limits most first-time prescriptions of certain drugs to 5 days for acute pain and 7 days for pain after surgery
  • Requires prescribers of opioids to check the Controlled Substance Reporting System (CSRS) before prescribing opioids and then every 90 days as long as the prescription continues
  • Requires physician assistants and nurse practitioners to consult with a supervising physician before prescribing opioids
  • Requires electronic prescribing of opioids

The law also includes provisions for pharmacies:

  • Requires pharmacies to register for access to the CSRS
  • Requires prescribers of opioids to check the CSRS if they believe a patient is seeking drugs for reasons other than pain management

The STOP Act also allows certain organizations to give out naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of opioids in case of overdose; allows the use of local funding for needle exchange programs; and requires in-home hospice providers to talk to families about how to properly dispose of unwanted and unused opioid medications.

It’s been said many times in different ways, and it’s true: Nobody wakes up and says, “Today, I want to become hooked on drugs.” Addiction is enticing, it draws us in. People are unexpectedly and unintentionally lured into dependence, often without realizing it’s happening – just like my former patient.

The STOP Act aims to not only make it more difficult for addicts to “game the system,” but also to prevent addiction in the first place.

There is no magic wand we can wave to get rid of opioid addiction. As long as there are drugs that trigger our brains to crave more, we will have the potential for addiction. But the requirements in the STOP Act have the potential to save lives and prevent many families from being torn apart by the destructive forces of drug abuse. 

We’ll need more than a law to solve the opioid problem. But STOP is a good start.

Anuradha Rao-Patel

About Anuradha Rao-Patel

Anuradha Rao-Patel, MD, is a Medical Director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC). She is responsible for the evaluation of the medical necessity, appropriateness, and efficiency of the use of health care services, procedures, prescription drugs, and facilities under the provisions of the applicable health benefits plan. Before joining Blue Cross NC, she worked in a private practice doing acute and chronic pain management.

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