New rules to place limits on the number of painkillers that doctors can prescribe are slated to take effect on Monday, Governor Cooper’s office announced in a press release this afternoon.
The changes are part of the state’s ongoing effort to tackle the opioid epidemic, which claims the lives of an estimated four North Carolinians per day. The state is home to four of the twenty-five worst cities in the nation for opioid abuse, with Wilmington earning the number one spot. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina saw a 73 percent increase in opiate-related deaths between 2005 and 2015. In 2015 alone, the total combined costs of opioid-related overdoses totaled $1.3 billion.
The sobering numbers compelled lawmakers earlier this year to pass the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevent (STOP) Act, which will place stricter limits on the doctors’ painkiller prescribing ability. Beginning Monday, doctors will be limited to providing five days’ worth of opioids for first-time patients suffering from acute pain resulting from broken bones or muscle injuries, and seven days’ worth for patients who had surgery. In both cases, when the limit is up, doctors can refill patients’ prescriptions. The changes will not affect prescriptions for patients with chronic pain.
The goal, advocates say, is that the prescribing limits will put fewer pills in patients’ hands, thereby reducing the likelihood of addiction. As NCDHHS notes, decades of powerful opiate overprescription resulted in today’s epidemic. In 2015, there were sixty-two opiate-related deaths in Wake County and six in Orange County, according to NCDHHS data.
“The STOP Act will prevent people from becoming addicted to opioids through smarter prescribing by doctors and dentists. It will save lives by reducing the number of pills that can be prescribed for acute pain,” Attorney General Josh Stein said in a press release announcing the changes. “This legislation succeeded due to a bipartisan, all-hands on deck strategy—and that is what it will take to continue to make progress on this crisis. The STOP Act is an important first step, and I look forward to putting my shoulder to the wheel with others to prevent and treat addiction while enforcing our laws against traffickers and pushers.”
You can learn more about NC’s opioid crisis here.