Originally in the Kinston Free Press

July 27, 2017

North Carolina has been cracking down on opioids use for the past two years, but it’s still a crisis from the mountains to the coast and more work needs to be done, according to the state’s attorney general.

Josh Stein, N.C. Attorney General, stopped by the Kinston Free Press Thursday on his way to the Rotary to talk about the state’s opioid crisis.

“It’s tearing families apart,” Stein said. “It’s creating all kinds of health issues and it’s taking lives. About four people a day die in North Carolina from an overdose and the biggest part of that is the opioid problem.”

Over the past 20 years opioid addiction has gone up in relation to the increase of painkillers prescribed, Stein said.

“There’s basically a one-to-one relationship where the more prescription painkillers that are issued correspond with the number of people dying of overdose,” he said.

People become addicted from the prescription itself or put them in a medicine cabinet where someone else might take them and become addicted, Stein said.

“Eighty percent of the people on heroin started out hooked on the prescription painkiller,” he said. “And once they are on heroin they put these chemical derivatives in it like fentanyl that are incredibly deadly.”

There was an example in Greenville last weekend of how deadly fentanyl can be. There were seven heroin overdoses in Greenville in a 24-hour period, Stein said.

“It’s because there’s some garage chemist who is mixing these incredibly dangerous and deadly chemicals and they don’t know what they are doing, so these bad batches get out there and start creating overdoses and death,” he said.

The state is taking a comprehensive approach at dealing with the problem through prevention, treatment and enforcement, Stein said.

Prevention consists of educating youths about the dangers of prescription painkillers and working with doctors and dentist to reduce the number of prescriptions being issued, Stein said.

“There was a prescription written for every man, woman and child in North Carolina last year for a painkiller, essentially 10 million prescriptions written, 700 million pills,” he said. “But only a fraction of those get used and the rest are in the medicine cabinet and get diverted.”

This year the General Assembly passed the STOP, or Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention, Act that sets a limit on a painkiller prescription of five days for acute pain and a 7-day prescription after surgery. It also requires doctors to file the information in a database, and requires e-prescribing to do away with prescription pad forgery, Stein said.

The General Assembly has also earmarked $10 million for treatment programs to fight the addiction and Gov. Roy Cooper has received a $31 million grant that will also be used for treatment programs, but there is still much that needs to be done, Stein said.

“There are people who are pushing these drugs, who are trafficking these drugs into North Carolina,” he said. “They are incredibly deadly and they are leaving a wake of death and despair. Those folks need to be held accountable and punished severely.”