Roughly three people in North Carolina die each day from an opioid overdose. State lawmakers are considering new legislation aimed at reducing that number.
“Opioids don’t care if you’re rich or poor. They don’t care if you live in a rural area or the city. They don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” said Attorney General Josh Stein at a press conference on Wednesday. “They just come and grab ahold of you and take control of your life, leaving a wake of death and misery all across North Carolina.”
At the press conference, Stein and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers unveiled the HOPE Act, which includes various measures aimed at reducing the illegal supply and demand of opioids. Members of the House Health Committee are scheduled to discuss and vote on the bill on Thursday.
Opioid overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in North Carolina, Stein said. Between 2005 and 2015, fatal opioid overdoses climbed in most eastern counties, with many of those counties reporting death rates that had more than doubled. The bipartisan HOPE Act would give law enforcement more tools to investigate and charge people who illegally distribute opioids. It would also invest more state funding into treatment.
“We’re in the midst of this crisis and solving it won’t be easy, but if we work together and constantly strive for new ideas to attack the problem – to reduce both the supply and the demand for these drugs – we can turn the tide on it,” Stein said.
The HOPE Act’s sponsors describe the bill as a continuation of the 2017 STOP Act, which requires doctors and pharmacists to track patients’ opioid prescriptions through a statewide database. Law enforcement would have quicker access to that database with the new legislation, said Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Greenville), who’s one of the bill’s sponsors.
“With the STOP Act, North Carolina’s medical community took the leading role in stemming the overflow of prescription medications onto our streets, medicine cabinets and emergency departments,” said Murphy. “Today, with the HOPE Act, the medical community joins hands with North Carolina’s law enforcement community to help them in their efforts to combat the illegal activity that fuels this crisis.”
Under the legislation, dealers who sell someone opioids that lead to a fatal overdose could face a new charge, “death by distribution of a dangerous drug,” which would carry tougher penalties. It would also make it a felony offense for first responders and home health aides to steal patients’ prescribed opioids.
“Fortunately, these activities are rare, but we have to seal every door and stem every breach that allows this crisis to continue,” Murphy said.
The bill would also invest $10 million into treatment programs and $1 million into increasing access to Naloxone, the opioid-overdose reversal drug, in next year’s budget.