A new North Carolina state law that went into effect Jan. 1 could help curb the opioid epidemic by reducing the amount of pills in circulation in the community, says Bridget Bridgman, Novant Health director of medication safety.

The Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act — or the STOP Act – now limits providers to prescribing no more than five days of opioids for acute pain. (Acute pain is pain from disease, accident, intentional trauma, or other cause that is expected to last for three months or less. This includes post-surgical pain and pain generated from injuries of all types.)  It also limits prescriptions to no more than seven days to treat pain that follows surgery. 

“Decreasing the prescribing of opioids is really a fundamental step in curbing the opioid epidemic. It’s really the baseline regulations that are needed to get started to confront this epidemic,” Bridgman said. “That’s where it all begins — getting (opioids) out of the community.”

Bridgman said it’s important to note that the new law will not affect patients who are dealing with chronic pain. “Initial prescribing limits are on that first prescription,” she said. “If, as a patient, you later need more medication, you can talk to your prescriber. They can re-evaluate and assess your pain again and give you another prescription.”

 Novant Health has also been working to address the opioid epidemic, Bridgman said.  

“We’ve put together a team, a task force of 90 of our own team members, to strategize on how we can do our part to stop the opioid epidemic in the communities that we serve,” she said. “One of the ways that we can do that is use other medications that treat pain but which don’t have the same addictive properties as do opioids.”

Another way Bridgman said that Novant Health has been attempting to reduce the amount of opioids in circulation has been implementing a program for pharmacies where patients can return unused medications. 

The STOP Act, signed into law last year, has multiple components. Some of it went into effect last year, while another portion, effective in 2020, addresses electronic prescribing.