RALEIGH —A local lawmaker is pushing a bill in the General Assembly to strengthen law enforcement efforts to confront the opioid crisis.
State Sen. Tom McInnis, whose District 25 includes Scotland County, was joined by Attorney General Josh Stein and other state lawmakers to unveil the HOPE Act, 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.
The new legislation has been assigned to the House Health Committee.
“This bill is bringing forth legislation that will allow expanded opportunities for those who are addicted to be treated and get back in the mainstream of society,” McInnis said. “The Hope Act also give law enforcement agencies additional tools to catch, indict and convict those that do illegal things with prescription narcotics and illegally obtain prescription drugs.”
An additional $10 million has been added to budget this year for treatment, according to McInnis.
A further $6 million will go to build additional facilities at the Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers to reach more people in need in Greensboro and Wilkes County, according to McInnis.
The proposed bill also 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 receive prescriptions from multiple people.
Officials 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.”
The legislation also strengthens the penalties against health care workers who steal, dilute or substitute a patient’s drugs.
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.
“Families all across this state are dealing with the tragedy of losing children, parents, siblings and friends,” said McInnis, a Richmond County Republican. “We owe it to them to take every step possible to stop the spread of these deadly drugs.”
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.”
Though it is not being funded with money from the Hope Act, McInnis said he is proud that the Samaritan Colony in Richmond County has begun to seek funding to expand its facilities as well. The in-patient rehabilitation unit will add a 14-bed unit for women. Currently, the center only treats men.
“It will give families in Scotland County somewhere else to go rather than having to go far away for treatment,” McInnis said.
Reach Beth Lawrence at 910-276-2311