NORTH CAROLINA-- In the continued fight against opioid abuse, a new law limiting how doctors prescribe painkillers takes effect on January 1 in North Carolina.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevent (STOP) Act – setting new limits on the amount of drugs that doctors can prescribe to a patient on their first visit.
READ | Full Text of HB243
The new regulations come after an epidemic of overdoses across the state.
Starting Monday, doctors can prescribe only five days' worth of opioids for acute pain like the injuries one would sustain in a car crash or an athletic injury.
After the initial prescription, physicians can refill the patient's dosage if necessary.
Doctors will now be limited to a one-week prescription for opioids for pain following a surgical procedure.
Representative Jon Hardister voted in favor of the STOP Act.
He says the idea is simply to stop people from becoming addicted to opioids in the first place.
"The problem can start in a way that is very innocent," said Hardister. "When a person suffers an injury or has a surgery, they end up being prescribed an opioid and next thing you know, they could be addicted."
Supporters say the goal of the new law is to lower the opportunity for patients to become addicted to the medications by limiting the number of pills being sent home with people who might not necessarily need them.
"Some people are predisposed to addiction. Others have no problem with it. But there are many people out there that do. If we can prevent that from happening up front, I think that will mitigate the problem. That's our goal," said Hardister. "But we are cognizant of the fact that this is a difficult topic and this is just one step."
As part of the STOP Act, doctors also have to report all prescriptions to the state's controlled substance reporting database to track who's getting the drugs.
Dr. Danielle Ray at the Cone Hospital Emergency Department says the new law is a good step to preventing new addiction problems but she isn't sure that the law will help with the problems that already exist.
"Nobody knows for sure what the impact is going to be yet," said Ray. "There are extenuating things that go on when you've had narcotics in the community like we've had. We know that as some of those have decreased, we seen an increase in alternatives like heroin and illicit substances."
Instead of prescribing large doses of opioids, Dr. Ray says they refer patients to a specialist or a primary care doctor to take care of the problem or just use Tylenol or Ibuprofen as an alternative.
The new law limiting opioid prescriptions officially goes into effect at the beginning of 2018.
Patients with chronic pain including long term injuries or patients in nursing homes will not be impacted by the new regulations.
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