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Editorial: More funding needed in opioid crisis battle

A News & Observer editorial this week praised recent work by Gov. Roy Cooper and the legislature to battle the opioid epidemic – a nationwide problem of which a number of North Carolina cities are some of the saddest examples.

But the editorial went on to say that more money and attention are needed – especially from federal sources.

From the editorial:

“We are in crisis mode with opioid addiction,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at the North Carolina Opioid Summit held June 27 in Raleigh.

In response, the legislature recently approved the STOP Act. The new law will reduce the number of prescription pain pills doctors give to first-time patients and cut the supply of unused pain pills in medicine cabinets. The law also requires doctors to consult a statewide database to track prescriptions. That will make it harder for people to “doctor shop” or obtain multiple pain pill prescriptions.

Meanwhile, Cooper has presented an extensive plan to reduce opioid abuse statewide. The plan calls for a coordinated efforts at all levels of government with an emphasis on adjusting the plan as circumstances and new challenges emerge. The plan includes provisions of the STOP act and calls for raising community awareness of the crisis and increasing the availability of naloxone. The plan also advocates diverting users who commit minor crimes into treatment instead of jail and urges doctors to refer pregnant users into treatment.

“Our goal is preventing overdose deaths and also reducing addiction and substance abuse,” Cooper said.

These are sound steps by the legislature and the governor, but ultimately it will require more funding for treatment and recovery. On that front, the outlook is discouraging. The health care reform bills proposed in Congress would reduce funds for treating opioid abuse by cutting Medicaid and depriving millions of people of health insurance.

Cooper, a member of President Donald Trump’s new Commission To Fight Opioid Abuse, said he told members of the commission that access to health care is a fundamental part of fighting the problem. “I said at the very first meeting that we are kidding ourselves if we don’t think what’s going on in Congress right now with health care and the taking away of health insurance coverage from millions of people is not going to hurt our battle against the opioid crisis,” he said.

North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis should listen closely to what North Carolina is reporting and requesting regarding the opioid crisis. A response has been launched at the state level, but only a full commitment from the federal level can begin to bend the terrible trend lines of death, injury and family pain that are rising around the nation because of opioid abuse.

There is a great deal more to be done within our state, as well.

While the recently passed state budget did improve funding for the state’s Controlled Substances Reporting System and funneled $10 million in federal grants to treatment services, it was well under what Gov. Roy Cooper called for in his suggested budget and only about half of what was called for in the bi-partisan Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.

A small pilot program to treat opiate overdoses was funded in Wilmington, the seat of New Hanover County which has one of the highest instances of opioid related deaths. The problem there has led the county health department to produce a series of public service announcement videos.

A number of Democrats – including Cooper – have been open in their disappointment with the current level of funding, saying a larger commitment and a more holistic approach is crucial.

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