Resources & Information


Clarifying some points about NCMB’s new opioid investigations program

In April, the Board emailed its licensees about a new effort to address potentially unsafe opioid prescribing in North Carolina. The Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative is an attempt to reduce patient harm from misuse and abuse of prescription opioids by identifying and, where necessary, intervening to prevent excessive and/or inappropriate prescribing.

The Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative will use data provided in accordance with state law by the NC Department of Health and Human Services and will investigate physicians and physician assistants identified through criteria established by the Board with help from an advisory committee. The first group of licensees received notices of investigation in mid-April. (Selection criteria for these investigations are listed at the end of this article.) NCMB has received feedback from licensees and patients that some prescribers have responded to the Board’s new program by arbitrarily reducing patient dosages, ceasing prescribing or discharging patients in an attempt to avoid Board scrutiny. This response is not warranted or advisable.

One myth that appears to be circulating, based on information received from patients who have contacted the Board, is that NCMB has established a maximum acceptable dose for opioids or limit on how much medication patients should be prescribed. This is not the case. The type and amount of medication prescribed should be determined by the prescriber, based on objective clinical information. The Board encourages care that conforms to current accepted standards, regardless of the quantity or dose of medication prescribed.

As with all Medical Board investigations, NCMB’s new Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative will determine the appropriateness of care through standard methods, including written responses from prescribers, review of patient records, and independent expert medical reviews. The Board clearly recognizes that prescribers identified through its selection criteria may be practicing and prescribing in accordance with accepted standards of care. However, given the current public health crisis, the known risks of opioids and the rising incidence of unintentional overdose deaths, the legislature and the public expect the Board to take a leadership role in devising solutions. The Board has an obligation to verify that care and prescribing is clinically appropriate.

Physicians and others who treat chronic pain are encouraged to review current standards of care by reading NCMB’s position statement on use of opiates for the treatment of pain and other resources. Visit NCMB’s responsible opioid prescribing page.


The Board will investigate prescribers who meet one or more of the following criteria:

1. The prescriber falls within the top one percent of those prescribing 100 milligrams of morphine equivalents (MME) per patient, per day.

2. The prescriber falls within the top one percent of those prescribing 100 MMEs per patient, per day in combination with any benzodiazepine and is within the top one percent of all controlled substance prescribers by volume.

3. The prescriber has prescribed to two or more patients who died in the preceding twelve months due to opioid poisoning.

Read FAQs about the Safe Opioid Prescribing Initiative