Drew Gintis was a teenager when he started wrestling at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh.
And he loved it, even though he lost every match his freshman year, said his mother, Marsha Gintis.
“[He] worked so hard and by his junior year he had a 21 and 2 record,” she said. “His dream was to go to states.”
But a shoulder injury prevented him from wrestling, and was the catalyst to an addiction that began with a prescription to oxycontin. That turned into what his mom calls a downward spiral – skipping school, unable to hold a job, eventually rehab. Drew Gintis died on July 31, 2015. He was 21.
"I’m a mom, and I lost my boy … and we need to just do whatever we can to stop this from continually happening," she said.
North Carolina is among the states that have been hardest hit by America’s opioid crisis. Two years ago, there were more unintentional prescription opioid and drug overdose deaths in the state than there were murders.
Marsha Gintis believes her son’s death was preventable and hopes new legislation at the General Assembly can make a difference.
State Representative Craig Horn, a Republican from Union County, is a primary sponsor of House Bill 243, known as the STOP act. Stop stands for “Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention.”
The bill, which has wide bipartisan support, seeks to accomplish several things. One provision limits initial prescriptions for acute pain to five days; seven days after surgery. The legislation also requires medical providers to check a database before prescribing opiates, with the aim to reduce doctor shopping. Nearly 10 million opiate prescriptions were written in the state last year – that’s basically one for every person.
"When initial prescriptions for highly addictive medications are written they should be written in some type of step process, rather than prescribing 120 pills, 200 pills,” Horn said.
Opiates do not discriminate. In recent years, they have led to more and more overdoses and accidental deaths in our state. Along with oxy – Vicodin, Percoset, and Hydrocodone are regularly prescribed – following major surgeries as well as for the removal of wisdom teeth and back pain.
From 1999 to 2015, deaths caused by unintentional poisoning increased more than five-fold, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services branch of injury and violence prevention. Of those deaths, more than nine out of 10 are caused by drugs, both prescription medications as well as illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine.
Health experts are projecting that in 2017 opiates will surpass car crashes as the leading cause of accidental deaths in the state.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat from Wake County who previously served in the State Senate, said too often, people are receiving prescriptions for narcotics when Tylenol or Motrin may do the trick.
"There are literally tens of millions of pills sitting in people’s medicine cabinets, not being used, that get diverted into the black market drug trade,” Stein said. “And we have got to stop making addicts out of people."
The proposed changes to state law deal primarily with acute pain, not chronic pain. This bill would not pertain to patients in cancer treatment, hospice or palliative care, or in substance abuse treatment programs -- all reasonable measures, according to Jim Finch, an addiction medical specialist in Durham.
"We just need to be very thoughtful to make sure they don’t interfere with access to care, or throw up impediments that lead physicians to choose not to treat," Finch said.
Finch pointed to the rushed nature of the medical world, and primary care physicians who spend, on average, just a few minutes with each patient. He said action by lawmakers is an important part of what must be a larger comprehensive effort.
The legislation expected to advance soon in Raleigh, also eases the restrictions on who can get naloxone – an opiate EpiPen, and allocates 10 million dollars for community based treatment facilities.
Lawmakers from both parties have been quick to get behind the proposal. Stein and Horn are hopeful this law sets an example for other states.