State senator says unanimous support possible for opioid bill

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, March 8, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — Unanimous approval could be a reality for a bill in the state legislature aimed at combating an opioid-abuse epidemic, says Sen. Tom McInnis, R-25.

McInnis helped introduce the bill, known as the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act. He said the opioid crisis affects every family in North Carolina.

“I’m talking about the whole family tree, from grandpapa down to grandbaby,” he said. “They’ll have a broken bone at some point in their life, a root canal, a rotor cuff injury or, for heaven’s sake, be in an automobile accident. They’re going to be subjected to receiving these drugs and will either love them or going to hate them.”

If a person ends up hating prescription pain bills, McInnis said, there’s a chance the bottle will be tucked away in a medicine cabinet. That scenario poses the potential for a thief to take the pills and sell them.

An alternative is for people to become addicted to the pills.

The opioid bill, which has bipartisan support, would put limits on initial prescriptions; appropriate $20 million for community-based treatment and recovery services; put new restrictions on medical providers of opioid drugs; and extend standing orders for antagonist drugs, which prevent the body from responding to opioids.

Asked about support in the N.C. General Assembly for the opioid bill, McInnis said he “can’t see why it would not be” unanimous.

“We have got to limit that supply,” McInnis said. “We don’t want to keep somebody from meeting the protocol of pain management for this issue, but there are plenty of other things that can be used as far as drugs that are not as highly addictive once you get over those first days.”

McInnis, a primary sponsor, said his role in the bill included crafting maximum limits for initial prescriptions. Specifically, the bill would allow only a five-day prescription for certain drugs for acute pain. A seven-day limit applies for pain relief after surgery. Following a subsequent consultation, a prescription could be issued for any time period deemed appropriate, the bill states.

For McInnis, the desire to stem the tide of opioid addiction is personal. When he introduced the bill last week, he spoke about his stepson, who died because of a drug addition in 2007. McInnis said his stepson’s drug addiction intensified when he was prescribed an opioid after an automobile accident.

State statistics show a sharp increase in recent years in the number of local deaths from overdoses. In 1999, the total number of opiate poisoning deaths in Rowan County was four. It jumped to 23 by 2004 and has fluctuated in years since. In 2015, the number of opiate poisoning deaths was 29.

All members of Rowan County’s delegation to the General Assembly have said they support the opioid bill. Sen. Andrew Brock, R-34, signed on as a co-sponsor.

Supporters also include Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook, who spoke about the bill during last week’s local Republican Party convention. She said the bill appears to directly target the core of the opioid epidemic. Oftentimes, heroin users start with an addiction to prescription medication, she said. When people can’t buy heroin, Cook said, they break into homes and cars to get money for drugs.

“If you don’t have folks that can initially get them, the painkillers, then that will hopefully reduce the folks that then turn to heroin,” Cook said. “You’ve got the buyers. You’ve got the sellers. You’ve literally got the soccer moms that are living in the nice neighborhoods and go to the corner to get their $10 fix.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the bill had been referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.