In response to a nationwide opioid epidemic, the North Carolina legislature is working to create a possible statewide database that would allow law enforcement to access a record of prescribed painkillers.
“When an investigator begins to see patterns, they can then do perhaps some predictive analysis. It helps them build a case so they can get to the right person,” said Rep. Craig Horn, according to the The News & Observer. Horn is co-sponsoring the bill that would make the database available and previously sponsored the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act in 2017.
States across the country have struggled with the rise of an opioid epidemic. According to CNN, over 63,600 deaths in the United States were overdoses in 2016, and 66 percent of those included opioid use. This averaged to 115 daily opioid overdose deaths.
“The opioid epidemic is a heartless killer,” said North Carolina’s Attorney General Josh Stein at a news conference that announced a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, who makes the painkiller OxyContin.
“More than 13,000 people have died of an opioid overdose in North Carolina since 1999. The crisis has ruined and taken lives, destroyed families and posed a steep financial burden on our communities with health care, criminal justice and social services bearing the brunt. And sadly this crisis will worsen before it improves.”
The new bill, known as the Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Enforcement (HOPE) Act, is supported by Stein. It would allow investigators working on an active case to request access to specific prescription information, but not the entire database. Every request submitted would also be sent to the State Bureau of Investigation. Some medical professionals, however, are wary of the bill.
“There is a lot of confidentiality in doctor-patient relationships,” said Dr. Rebecca Love to The News & Observer. Love works as a family medicine specialist in Shelby, North Carolina, and fears that patients may be less likely to share everything with doctors without the promise of privacy. “It’s important for us to find out things and heal people. We have to have that confidentiality.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic to be a public health emergency in 2017. President Donald J. Trump dedicated his first public service campaign in office to fighting opioid misuse and addiction, especially in youth populations.
“Law enforcement needs the ability to identify those folks that are either intentionally or unintentionally accessing prescription drugs or drugs in general. By the same token, we have to always be concerned about the people’s right to privacy, so it’s a balance,” said Horn.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter in North Carolina has said that the HOPE Act would be the first law of this nature in the country.
“None of that information is useful towards combating the opioid epidemic. I think a lot of North Carolinians would agree with us,” said North Carolina ACLU spokesman Mike Meno to The News & Observer. “Government agents should not be allowed to snoop through a person’s drug history.”