Nationwide, prescription drug abuse emergencies and deaths are growing at an alarming rate. Doctors are overprescribing painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin and other opioid drugs, and people who “doctor shop” to maximize the number of pills they get put themselves at great risk and add to the problem. North Carolina is sorely feeling the brunt of this crisis.
North Carolina’s New Regulations Help Stem the Tide
North Carolina’s rate of fatal drug overdoses has skyrocketed about 75 percent since 2002, according the federal government. The focus is now on doctors who over prescribe pills to stop the growing overdose epidemic in the state.1
One step the state has taken is to educate doctors that there are viable alternatives to opioid painkillers. Also, education about the dangers of prescribing these types of drugs is spreading. Other regulations put in place include new training requirements for physicians to obtain license renewals. Also, doctors who are suspected of handing out too many prescriptions for opioids are now monitored. When prescriptions lead to overdose deaths, the government is tracking who issued the prescriptions to determine if patterns of malpractice exist with these doctors.
North Carolina Needs to Follow the Lead of Other States
Despite these efforts, North Carolina hasn’t addressed the problem as quickly or as strongly as other states. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that North Carolina doctors wrote 97 painkiller prescriptions per 100 people. That ranks North Carolina on the high end, coming in at number 13 in the United States.
Other states, like Florida, have restricted the prescribing and distribution of opioid painkillers, which has helped to curb abuse and decrease overdoses.2 Many prescription painkillers were distributed through “pill mills,” and once Florida cracked down on these over prescribing doctors, the amount of registered pain management clinics in Florida went from 900 in 2010 down to 367 in 2014.
With tighter regulation of doctors, results happen. In 2010, the Drug Enforcement Agency reported that 98 of the top 100 oxycodone dispensing doctors were in Florida. Today, none of the top 100 dispensing doctors are located in Florida. Florida recovered from being the center of the pill mill firestorm by overseeing what the state’s doctors were doing, and North Carolina can do the same.
Making More Improvements in Prescription Drug Abuse
A top medical board official has reaffirmed the commitment to the people of North Carolina to reduce prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths. A report issued to all physicians in North Carolina provided specific recommendations and suggestions to use alternative treatments before using medications to treat pain and if these medications are still provided that family members should look out for any signs of substance abuse. If substance abuse does exist, there are many treatment facilities to help individuals and families to work through recovery.
With the ongoing development of doctor education, tighter regulations and alternative pain management techniques, the growth of prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths in North Carolina can be stopped, while people who do need these medications for pain can still be treated effectively.