My son passed away six months ago due to an opioid overdose. Nothing prepared me for that Sunday morning when I found Ryan in his bedroom. Since then, our family is struggling and learning to live without him. Addiction rocked our family’s core to unfathomable levels and forever changed our lives.
As with many other people affected by opioids, my son’s risky behavior began in middle school when he experimented with diverted pills from a friend. His addiction progressed and eventually became a disease that could not be controlled. I often think of what could have been different if he hadn’t started with those pills. Like many families, we didn’t realize the danger lurking in our own medicine cabinets until it was too late.
To address the epidemic of prescription pill misuse in our state, a bipartisan group of legislators recently introduced the STOP Act (Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act – House Bill 243/Senate Bill 175) to save the lives of North Carolinians. This act takes a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to drug policy by mandating specific regulations for prescribing and dispensing controlled substances. For example, the STOP Act would enforce the use of the Controlled Substance Reporting System so that medical providers and pharmacists check a database that shows a patient’s prescription history before writing or dispensing a new prescription. This would deter many people from “doctor shopping,” or seeking prescriptions from multiple physicians. The bill also places common-sense restrictions on the initial number of pills a health care provider can prescribe for acute pain (the STOP Act does not affect chronic pain patients) and mandates e-prescribing to cut back on forgery with paper pad prescriptions.
Critically, the STOP Act appropriates $20 million for local community-based treatment centers to provide resources necessary for recovery. If we truly want to get to the heart of this epidemic, we need more treatment resources and options for people who are already addicted. Cutting off the supply of pills, while it may prevent many people from getting addicted in the first place, could put those who are already addicted in a difficult position. Many may switch to illicit drugs, such as heroin, if they are no longer able to get pills.
Additionally, for those who are already addicted to opioids and at risk for overdose death, we need to ensure that they have access to the life-saving drug naloxone, which reverses opioid overdose. The STOP Act facilitates greater access to naloxone, but the General Assembly should also consider appropriating specific funds to purchase naloxone for people at risk for overdose and for law enforcement, who often arrive at the scene of an overdose even before paramedics. In addition, we should ramp up efforts to collect unused prescriptions from medicine cabinets and get them out of our communities before what may start as innocent experimentation turns deadly.
If passed, the STOP Act would take significant steps toward preventing the diversion of pills and addiction at ground zero, our homes. The opioid epidemic is killing too many. Our loved ones need to be protected from this preventable cause of death. I urge you to contact your representatives immediately to encourage them to pass the STOP Act.
Elaine Moffatt lives in Charlotte. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.