Originally on WECT-6

May 10, 2018

If only it were as easy as sending a tweet.

Then, the challenge of eradicating North Carolina of the opioid epidemic wouldn’t seem quite so daunting for Josh Stein, NC's first-term attorney general.

After all, Stein is definitely a 21st-century public servant. He leverages the engagement opportunities provided by having active social media accounts, treating each like they are – as a two-way communicator rather than a one-trick megaphone. It has made him arguably the most connected attorney general in state history and, along with that, perhaps the one who’ll be held the most accountable.

“That’s to the good. I’m all about accountability,” Stein, 51, said. “I want the people of North Carolina to know as much about the work I’m doing on their behalf as they can just as I want them to know everything that the governor is doing, that the legislature is doing. Our state works best when our leaders are engaged and accountable to the voters and that’s what I’m all about.”

This is where things circle back to that opioid issue.

Certainly, Stein has scribbled an imposing list of action items during his 18 months in office. Security breaches that compromise personal information, offshore drilling, healthcare – each has a place on Stein’s agenda during this four-year term, though all fall behind the opioid dilemma.

“If there was one thing I could do,” said Stein, who was in Wilmington on Thursday to dedicate a highway. “If we could get rid of this opioid crisis, it would improve tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives. It would take a huge drag off of our economy and public budgets. It would free law enforcement from being drug counselors to actually going after real criminals. It would empty our emergency departments and our jails. It would be an incredible improvement for the quality of our state.”

Things would be better in many ways. After all, it’s a problem that has afflicted North Carolina as much as any state.

But Stein really hits home when he throws out some startling numbers.

Stein says there are 10 times more pills prescribed per capita in the United States than the entire country of Japan and four to five times more than all of Europe. He also said the number of pills prescribed has quadrupled over the past 20 years along with a proportionate increase in overdose deaths.

Closer to home, there are approximately four accidental pill-related overdoses each day in North Carolina. According to the governor’s office, opioid-related deaths have risen from fewer than 200 in 1999 to 1,384 in 2016.

So it's no surprise it's at the top of Stein's agenda.

He’s been a supporter of the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act or Stop Act, legislation that went into action on Jan. 1 to enhance oversight and supervision of prescriptions. The strategy is to contain the number of prescriptions which, in turn, should drastically curtail doctor shopping and overprescribing – the top culprit for the issue, according to Stein.

He also has been investigating opioid manufacturers and distributors to determine whether or not they created or fueled the opioid crisis.

For example, late last year he sued Insys Therapeutics, an Arizona-based company. The lawsuit alleges that Insys aggressively promoted its fentanyl-based medicine to pain doctors for migraine treatment, etc., when in fact, it’s extremely addictive and only approved for cancer pain.

“Just to give you a context of how addictive these things are,” Stein explained, “if you are opioid naïve — meaning you haven’t taken these pills and something happens where you need them — if the doctor gives you a 10-day prescription and you take them for 10 days, 20 percent of those people — one out of five — will be taking opioids a year later, 12 months later. They are insanely addictive.”