Originally in The Sampson Independent

February 28, 2019

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has been working to protect families and aggressively combat the opioid epidemic since he took office in 2017.

As part of the the S.C.O.P.E. 4 Hope Opioid Summit hosted by the Sampson County Substance Abuse Coalition Wednesday, Stein shared information on the state’s opioid crisis and how he and his staff continue to work to stop the growing problem.

“Opioids are wreaking havoc on families across North Carolina,” Stein said. “It’s my goal to stop the flow and cut out the illegal obtaining and selling of opioids in our state.”

According to Stein, there is an average of five deaths in North Carolina associated with opioid overdose everyday. Overdose deaths have now become the number one cause of accidental deaths in the country — passing the previous title holder, car crashes.

“We are the only industrialized nation with a declining life expectancy,” Stein shared.

Opioids are described as a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and others.

“These pills don’t care who you are,” Stein explained. “They get into your body, change your brain chemistry and become the driving force of what your body needs.”

Since taking office, Stein has been instrumental in getting the STOP Act legislation signed into action. This law sets new initial prescribing limits and is part of the state’s multi-pronged effort to reduce the oversupply of prescription opioids that has contributed to increased addiction and unintentional overdose deaths.

As of Jan. 1, 2018, doctors and other providers may prescribe up to a five-day regimen of opioids for acute pain for ailments like broken bones or muscle trauma. After that, according to Stein, doctors and other providers may issue refills to those patients for ongoing pain. For post-surgery pain, doctors and other providers are limited to providing their patients a one-week prescription for opioids, but may also issue refills for ongoing pain.

STOP Act legislation is just one of the ways Stein has vowed to fight the opioid epidemic’s rampant spreading. The Synthetic Opioid Control Act helps restrict the flow of opioids into the state, and the HOPE Act gives law enforcement officers more tools to keep opioids off the streets and hold drug traffickers accountable.

Stein says he does not support jail time for someone who is suffering from addiction.

“Jail time is not usually the best way to treat addiction,” he explained. “It doesn’t break the cycle. We will not arrest ourselves out of this crisis. It is our job to get them out of the justice system and into the public healthcare system.”

He does, however, feel those illegally getting the opioids in the hands North Carolinians, should pay the price.

“Those who are profiting off other people’s addiction and pain need to be punished,” he said.

Stein and his staff are diligently working to get into the public schools to spread the message to teens. According to statistics, one in five 11th graders admits to have taken medicine that isn’t theirs.

“You would not leave a loaded gun in the medicine cabinet, so why aren’t you getting the pain killers out of the medicine cabinet as well,” Stein questioned.

Corporate accountability, according to Stein, is another important factor in confronting the crisis. In 2018, the Attorney General’s office filed four lawsuits against drug companies over irresponsible and deceptive marketing practices that Stein believes helped fuel the crisis in North Carolina.

“While millions of people became addicted to pain killers, big industries were making billions of dollars,” Stein said. “If other companies don’t step up, I will not hesitate to hold them accountable as well.”

Stein’s ultimate goal — reduce the number of people that become addicted to opioids by keeping the drugs out of the hands of new people who could become addicted.

“Every community in North Carolina is struggling with this problem,” Stein said. “It’s time for us to raise awareness and learn about the great work being done across the state. We have made so much progress, but there is so much more work to do.”