News

The other side of the opioid crisis – a first-hand account

We’ve done some coverage of the opioid crisis lately – particularly in Wilmington, one of the worst cities for opioid abuse in the nation.

While taking an unflinching look at the very real problem and its very real human costs, it’s worth considering another aspect of our reaction to it.

Last month Lynn Frank, 64, wrote a thought-provoking piece for Philly.com about living not with opioid addiction but with chronic pain that is made manageable by her use of prescription opioid medication.

From that piece:

I am the other side of the opiate crisis. I am not an addict. I take pain medication to function at a minimal level and not allow my chronic pain get the better of me. It lets me feel normal for a short time every day. I never feel “high” from taking it, just almost “normal.” It allows me to focus and to do simple tasks that I could not otherwise perform

There are other things chronic pain sufferers do to relieve pain. In an effort to distract ourselves we meditate, pray, and have hobbies such as knitting (my personal favorite) and reading. We do many things to take our minds off of our pain, We attempt to stay positive even when it feels impossible. A short relief from pain helps. Pain medicine helps us function, at least for a short time, in a way that most people take for granted.

Please acknowledge those of us who suffer from chronic pain. Recognize our need for these powerful medications. Understand that we are only trying to live our lives by managing the nonstop pain. We want to survive and overcome. We will.

Read the whole thing here.

 

News

Payton McGarry, HB 2/HB 142 plaintiff, running for Greensboro City Council

Filing for local elections ended Friday and – perhaps predictably in a politically fractious year at the state and national level – there are a raft of first-time candidates on this year’s ballots.

Among them, one of the most interesting is Payton McGarry. The 21-year old transgender man was a plaintiff in the original HB 2 lawsuit – and is playing the same role in the amended suit against HB 142.

McGarry, a student at UNCG, has filed to run for City Council in Greensboro.

Payton McGarry, now a candidate for Greensboro City Council.

Since HB 2 was originally passed, McGarry has been a visible and vocal part of opposition to measures that would limit transgender protections. Now he’s looking to become the first openly LGBT member of the Greensboro City Council. It’s McGarry’s first run for office – and it could be an uphill battle. Though the city council races are officially non-partisan, McGarry is a liberal Democrat running against a moderate Democrat incumbent in Councilman Justin Outling. Leaning socially liberal and fiscally conservative, Outling won the District 3 seat in his own right after initially being appointed to finish the term of a departing councilman. That was no small feat for Outling, a black Democrat running in a council district whose representatives have traditionally been white and more conservative.

Outling has proven to be a moderate in office, which has made him a target for some more left-leaning candidates.

Two other candidates have also filed for the seat – Anturan Marsh and Craig Martin.

The primary election will be held Oct. 10. Election Day is Nov. 7.

News

ACLU, Lambda Legal challenge HB 142, call it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”

The law that replaced HB 2 is just as discriminatory and perhaps even more harmful, according to a new suit brought Friday by Lambda Legal, The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina.

HB 142, passed in May after enormous backlash to HB 2, bars municipalities from setting rules who can use bathrooms in schools and other public, government buildings – including whether transgender people can use the restroom that matches their gender identity.

“Make no mistake – HB 142 still seeks to discriminate against LGB and particularly transgender people,” said Chris Brook, legal director with the ACLU of North Carolina.

Brook called HB 142 “a wolf in sheep’s clothing crafted to keep discrimination intact – but sporting a new look.”

The lawsuit argues HB 142 violates constitutional due process and equal protection rights, as well as federal anti-discrimination laws as they pertain to schools and workplaces.

The amended suit names democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who signed HB 142 into law, rather than Pat McCrory, his Republican predecessor and the signer of HB 2.

Asked whether it is uncomfortable to be opposing Cooper, who championed the fight against HB 2, Brook said there are larger issues at stake.

“This has never been about politics for any of us,” Brook said. “It’s never been about basketball, it’s never been about Deutsche Bank.”

“Everyone was disappointed that the governor signed off on this piece of legislation,” Brook said. “It’s not something that merits the support of anyone.”

The amended suit also names two new plaintiffs – Madeline “Maddy” Goss, 41, of Raleigh and Quinton Harper, 32, of Carrboro.

Harper is a cisgender, bisexual man who works as a community organizer, is active in the fight against HIV and as an advocate for those living it.

Goss is a transgender woman who works as a Tae Kwon Do and is an active LGBT advocate.

On hand for a press conference on the amended suit Friday, Goss said she has been lucky to be able to have all of her legal paperwork and identification changed to read “female” – something not all transgender people can do or even seek to do. Even so, she said, she feels targeted by HB 142 and afraid to choose the restroom that conforms with her gender identity.

“This law invites people to single us out for discrimination, harassment or worse, violence,” Goss said.

Simone Bell, Southern regional director for Lambra Legal, called HB 142 “”a sham and a farce piece of legislation” that “kicks the can of equality down the road.”

Defendants in the lawsuit have asked until Sept. 15 to respond.

News

Wade criticizes governor as he vetoes her newspaper bill

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed legislation that would have led to Guilford County newspapers losing government advertising revenue.

Sen. Trudy Wade (Photo: NC General Assembly)

The bill, put forward by state Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford), did not pass with enough support to overturn a veto. It’s a political loss for Wade, who has had fierce struggles with the News & Record – the largest paper in Guilford County – for years. The paper has published a number of editorials very critical of Wade from her time on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and Greensboro City Council to her current role in the Senate. She also objected to news reports from papers and TV stations that covered some of the more controversial moves of her political career.

Full disclosure: I worked for the News & Record for more than a decade, covering everything from cops and courts to county, city and state government.

That experience gave me a front-row seat to Wade’s struggles with media and makes this report from Travis Fain at WRAL sound very familiar.

Wade and other bill supporters, including Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican whose district includes parts of Guilford County, said the bill was about modernizing legal notices and saving local governments money. It would have allowed governments to publish notices on a website instead of paying to advertise in a local newspaper.

This would have been a local option, not required.

Cooper dismissed the bill as an attempt by legislators to use “the levers of big government to attack important institutions in our state who may disagree with them from time to time.”

“Unfortunately, this legislation is another example of that misguided philosophy meant to specifically threaten and harm the media,” he said in a veto statement.

Wade said in her own statement that Cooper’s “veto of bipartisan legislation eliminating special carve-outs for the newspaper industry makes it clear his number one priority is brown-nosing those who cover him.”

The bill had some statewide impact, including from language that dealt with part-time newspaper carriers and would have made it easier for them to file worker’s compensation claims.

Wade said Cooper’s “brown nosing” was “to the detriment of the newspaper employees being denied workers compensation coverage” as well as “the taxpayers currently being forced to subsidize newspapers.”

There was also language doing away with a requirement that newspapers have a physical address in the county in which they sell public notice space. That would have opened the door for the North State Journal, a statewide publication launched by former members of Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration, to run government notices.

This isn’t Wade’s first swing at something like this and it likely won’t be her last. Like President Donald Trump, for whom Wade stumped in Guilford County, Wade’s antagonism to media is deep and abiding.

News

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.