Reality Check: NC lawmakers aim to curb opioid use, overdose deaths with new bill

Bob Lendino's son, Robert, died of a drug overdose. (WLOS)

BUNCOMBE COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) - Recently, North Carolina lawmakers proposed a bill to curb the growing trend of opioid use and overdose deaths. Macon County Sen. Jim Davis is one of the main sponsors of the legislation, titled the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.

Davis said he thinks one of the most important parts requires doctors to put their prescriptions into the state's controlled substance database. Right now, he says a majority of doctors do not use it. But that's just one part of a 10-page bill.

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Bob Lendino and his son Robert thrived off thrills. They often enjoyed riding roller coasters together.

"We would always get in the front because that's obviously the most fun," Bob said.

Where a roller coaster stops, life's ups and downs continue. Robert had a duel diagnosis. He was schizophrenic, addicted to alcohol and also used marijuana. Most treatment facilities require sobriety and Robert's recovery stopped when he relapsed.

"It was like a revolving door - a very tragic circle," his father said.

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Robert lived at the Asheville Recovery Group, which didn't kick people out just for a relapse. The owners were in a fight with the city, and last summer they shut the home down. Ten days later, Lendino said his son overdosed on a barbiturate somebody else had purchased online.

"I miss him a lot, but one thing is that I think all of us can agree on is that our lives are made up by more than an average of 80 revolutions around the sun," Lendino said.

Faith gets him through, and for other families the last page of the STOP Act offers hope. The bill proposed giving $20 million total for substance abuse treatment. Lendino said families need more options. If he controlled the cash, he'd invest in a facility similar to what his son stayed in.

"That was the type of structure that was good for Robert because living semi-independently and being able to believe in himself, I think, was helpful," Lendino said.

Davis called the bill a start. In addition to funding treatment, the STOP Act prohibits doctors from prescribing painkillers at a first visit for more than five days. It also allows local governments to fund needle exchanges. If doctors and pharmacists don't report their prescriptions, the state could levy fines. The state wants the data for a yearly report to inform future decisions.

"I appreciate the most that they're agreeing that this is not an answer. It puts more accountability on more people," said Waylon Hinson, who owns treatment centers across North Carolina, including in Asheville.

Hinson said the legislation is off.

"We're attacking the wrong problem. We're going from the wrong end. We're fighting to eliminate drugs, to eliminate doctors' ability to prescribe when we need to be working on why these people are using in the first place," Hinson said.

Hinson founded Legacy Freedom Treatment Centers. Because he's in recovery when Hinson hears the state could fund more treatment, he's worried it won't bring opioid abuse down.

"If the $10, $20 million, or any amount of money they want to throw at it is going to help send people to the wrong types of treatment centers, you're not going to see a result out of those centers. We've got to take a look at the way we're doing treatment as a whole," Hinson said.

He argues that people with an addiction need reasons to live beyond staying clean. Hinson said he found a reason through helping other people.

Lendino agreed that the treatment system needs to change.

"It's important for the state to have options, and I would say to people who see others and you don't know what they're going through, don't be so quick to judge and have a little compassion," Lendino said.

News 13 asked the State Department of Health and Human Services how the money for treatment would be distributed if the bill became law. More people might need help in Charlotte, but there may be fewer resources in a rural county. A DHHS spokesperson said the department does not comment on pending legislation.

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