'We need to stop creating addicts': NC Attorney General stops in Wilmington to talk opioid abuse

Attorney General Josh Stein (r), seated next to Mayor Bill Saffo(l) listens during round table discussion on opioid addiction
Attorney General Josh Stein (r), seated next to Mayor Bill Saffo(l) listens during round table discussion on opioid addiction

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Over 700 million prescription pills were given out last year in North Carolina, according to the Attorney General Josh Stein. It's an alarming number given the rate of opioid addiction.

"There was a prescription written for every man, woman, and child in North Carolina last year, 10 million scripts written," Stein explained.

Stein was in Wilmington on Monday morning for a roundtable discussion on opioid abuse. A recent report from Castlight Health concluded that the Port City led the nation in opioid abuse.

The meeting was held in Wilmington City Council chambers and included Mayor Bill Saffo, New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon, Brunswick County Sheriff Jon Ingram, District Attorney Ben David, Judges James Faison and Ola Lewis, Boiling Spring Lakes Chief Brad Shirley and Robert Childs, executive director of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.

Close to 30 people sat in on the roundtable discussion. About a dozen people spoke, including Frankie Roberts of LINC, a transitional housing facility for recovering addicts and people recently released from prison.

Roberts, who is African American, says he believes the drug epidemic is getting more attention because it's now in all homes and adds the face of drug addiction is not just of people who look like him.

"I hate to say I'm glad because that would be sad, but it's now getting attention and the inner city needs to be a part of this conversation," Roberts said.

Across the country, states are initiating legislation to limit the number of pills prescribed by doctors. Studies show prescription pill addictions from pain killers such as oxycodone often lead to other addictive drugs like heroin.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act, or STOP Act, aimed at saving lives. State Rep. Ted Davis (R) of New Hanover County is one of the sponsors of the bill.

Stein said his office helped draft the proposed legislation and said there are two major goals.

"One is trying to reduce the number of people who become addicted in the first place by having more responsible prescribing practices," Stein explained. "The second is to have $20 million in new funds for community-based treatment and recovery. To help people who are addicted to get well, get healthy."

The STOP Act would set a limit on how many pills can be prescribed. Patients would either be given a prescription for five or seven days post-medical procedures such as broken bones, dental surgery, or minor surgeries.

"People only ever use a fraction of them so they (pills) go into people's medicine cabinets where people who have an addiction will go seek them out and either use them or put them in the drug trade," Stein said, citing a personal example of getting more medication than needed following a procedure. "We need to stop creating addicts."

The STOP Act legislation, which is expected to pass, would not apply to people in chronic pain who are in need of advanced pain management.

"That's only for acute pain, meaning one-time pain, like you broke your arm," Stein warns. "It does not cover chronic pain so there isn't a limitation on chronic pain use so if folks have needs for extended prescriptions, this bill will not stand between them and their prescriber, their healthcare provider offering what's best for them."

The STOP Act would also require doctors and pharmacies to use what's called controlled substance reporting service to prevent what is known as doctor shopping.

"So they will know if their patient is actually a drug seeking patient who has gone to two to three other doctors to get pills," Stein said.

The $20 million proposed in the bill would be used over two years for treatment and recovery services across the state, like Coastal Horizons Center in Wilmington.

Kenny House, vice president of Clinical Services at Coastal Horizons, warns that the funds need to be committed.

"We've seen treatment dollars start off really big and end up really small," House explained.

Stein said it will take a commitment from everyone.

"That's on us, isn't it," Stein said with conviction. "We all have to be aware that it's easy to focus on something that first instance, but we can't allow ourselves to be distracted or lose interest over time unless we have successfully addressed this crisis."

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