By Ginger Livingston
Legislation to strengthen law enforcement efforts to confront the opioid crisis was introduced on Wednesday in the General Assembly.
Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, said the legislation, called the HOPE Act, is a companion to a law approved last year that sought to reduce the prescription of opioid medications and improve the tracking of prescriptions that are written.
“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,” Murphy said. Murphy joined other legislators, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and representatives of the law enforcement community to announce the legislation.
Murphy said earlier this month that he would introduce the legislation, but questioned if it would approved since legislative leaders wanted to focus on the state budget.
“I worked very hard on it (Tuesday) night and (Wednesday) morning, trying to work within the rules and restrictions on the legislative process in the short session,” Murphy said. “And we were able to circumvent some of the red tape and get this in the committee, hopefully get it voted on and then hopefully to the floor.”
The legislation has been assigned to the House Health Committee, which Murphy chairs.
While the bill invests $10 million a year in community-based drug treatment and recovery services, $1 million annually to supply law enforcement with naloxone, which counteracts the effects of opioid overdoses, and $160,000 in a safety program that destroys prescription drugs that are not used, no money is being appropriated this year, Murphy said.
“We are looking for appropriations next year,” he said.
The legislation gives law enforcement access to the state’s controlled substance reporting system, which was established to help medical providers identify people who are misusing prescriptions by identifying people who get prescriptions from multiple people.
Murphy said “very strict and stringent guidelines” will be in place when investigators use the system to investigate people who are “obtaining legal prescription medications by illegal means.”
“They need this access in real time so they can investigate in real time, for minutes and seconds matter when it comes to opioids,” Murphy said.
The legislation also strengthens the penalties against health care workers who steal, dilute or substitute a patient’s drugs.
“As sad as it is, we have some bad actors in the medical community who have, by their deeds, helped fuel this crisis,” Murphy said.
Theft of patient drugs by a first responder or home health workers is being increased to a Class G felony from a Class F felony.
“It is tragic that we actually have to put into legislation that it is illegal to tamper with a patient’s medication but we have no choice,” Murphy said. “Fortunately these activities are very rare. But we have to seal every door and stem every breach that allows this crisis to continue.”
The legislation also will:
■ Fund an additional SBI special agent to coordinate local drug investigators; expand and strengthen the Controlled Substances Reporting System by adding data on veterinary drugs, National Provider Identifier information and the name and ID of a person receiving Schedule II or III drugs.
■ Clarify that fentanyl trafficking is covered by drug trafficking statutes.
“There is no single answer that will end the opioid crisis,” Attorney General Josh Stein said. “We have to constantly look for ways to reduce supply and demand of these dangerous drugs. … The HOPE Act focuses on smart enforcement to stop the spread of these deadly drugs on our streets.”