News

Just how bad *is* the opioid epidemic?

This week we wrote about North Carolina’s response to the opioid epidemic in the recently passed state budget.

While the 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 number of Democrats – including Cooper – are disappointed and say more funding and a more holistic approach is crucial.

The story also talked a little about the way in which different classes of people now dying of drug overdoses – which is to say, more middle and upper middle class white people – has led to more concern.

But if you’re confused about just how bad the problem really is – in North Carolina and beyond – you should read this new story on the issue from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

From the story:

Nationwide, the drug overdose epidemic is now claiming more lives than both homicides and automobile accidents combined, and there were more fatalities from drug overdoses in 2015 than AIDS-related deaths during that epidemic’s peak in the 1990s. Drugs are the No. 1 killer of people under 50, and they are shortening the average American life expectancy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent count of drug overdose deaths was more than 52,000 in 2015, with at least 33,000 due to heroin, fentanyl, prescription painkillers and other opioids.

An early calculation of 2016 drug deaths by The New York Times estimates that overdose deaths were as high as 65,000 last year. That would be the largest one-year increase in history. Evidence from drug seizures and medical examiners’ reports suggests the death toll will be even higher this year.

“It turns out that Narcan [an opioid overdose antidote] is not the miracle drug everyone thought it was,” Fowler said. “It works great for an overdose of heroin, but now with fentanyl you need three doses. With carfentanil you need six.”

The overdose victims are revived with Narcan, which blocks the effect of opioids. But the problem is that many refuse further medical attention, walk away, and later die. That’s because after about an hour the rescue drug stops working, but the potent opioids continue to suppress breathing, sometimes for as long as eight hours.

People who overdose on heroin, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids need to be taken to a hospital, and put on a respirator, Fowler said. Some may need multiple doses of Narcan. But in many cases, that’s not happening. An increasing number of the fatal overdose victims his staff investigates were rescued earlier the same day, he said.

Read the whole story, which goes into startling detail about the number of bodies so overwhelming medical examiners that there aren’t enough staff to handle the autopsies and it’s getting difficult to hire more.

News

Concealed carry bill far from dead

The latest legislative session ended last week with HB 746 – the omnibus gun law bill – still bottled up in the Senate Rules committee.

But the bill, which would allow North Carolinians to carry concealed handguns without a permit under most circumstances, is one of a number of bills that is likely to resurface as lawmakers come back to Raleigh for special sessions over the next two months.

Gun rights activist groups are telling their members that the fight for the bill is far from over and encouraging them to lean on legislators who oppose the bill – especially Republicans.

The bill poses a political dilemma for GOP legislators. It passed in the House, but not with enough support to overturn a near certain veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, should it ever reach his desk. In a veto override scenario, Republicans who voted against the bill would have to decide whether they are willing to reverse their position to spite the governor. It would also mean facing off with some of the state’s most popular and most conservative law enforcement officers, from the Republican sheriffs of some of the state’s largest counties to the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.

If you haven’t yet read the recent editorial by Jacksonville Police Chief Michael Yaniero, it is worth your time. In it Yaniero, who is president of the state association of police chiefs, says the current permitting system – which was put together by Republicans, Democrats and law enforcement in the 1990s – has worked and should stay in place.

From the piece:

Guns in dangerous hands can be deadly. This bill would increase the likelihood of individuals having firearms that shouldn’t have them in the first place. It is our view that the disastrous consequences of having more guns in the hands of people who may be mentally or emotionally unfit to have concealed weapons outweighs the convenience of everyone else who wants to have a concealed gun without having to pay a small permit fee, undergo a background check and receive some training.

North Carolina is our home and our goal is to make it as safe as possible. As it is written now, H.B. 746 will make that goal more difficult. The current permit system is a balance of public safety needs and allowing concealed carry for the responsible people who hold concealed permits. The North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police is concerned with public safety and the safety of officers. The right thing is to protect the public and to protect our officers.

While bills like this one have failed in previous sessions, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike – to say nothing of law enforcement officers – say they’re disturbed by the current rhetoric on the issue and some of the debate on the current bill.

Whether the bill has a future – in its current or some amended form – will be determined this summer.

 

News

NC will comply with federal voter data request; Governor criticizes Trump fraud claims

Every state now has to decide how it will handle the request by President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission for all 50 states to hand over their states’ full voter-roll data – including names, addresses, dates of birth, party affiliations, last four Social Security number digits and voting history since 2006.

Some states – like Kentucky – have said they will not be aiding the commission, which they consider at best a waste of time and money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression.

North Carolina’s Bipartisan State Board of Elections & Ethics released a statement Friday noting that the commission has now limited its request to publicly available voter roll data and saying it will comply – as it must under state law.

“We understand concerns about voters’ privacy,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, the board’s executive director, in the statement. “The State Board will provide to the Commission publicly available data as already required under state law.”

Gov. Roy Cooper also released a statement questioning the request itself.

“Integrity of our elections is critical, and a recent State Board of Elections investigation already found there was no evidence of significant voter fraud in North Carolina,” Cooper said.  “My staff has told the State Board of Elections that we should not participate in providing sensitive information beyond what is public record as it is unnecessary, and because I have concerns that it is an effort to justify the President’s false claims about voter fraud.”

NC Budget and Tax Center, News

Prosperity Watch: Looking at LGBTQ equality in NC

June is Pride month and the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center is looking at LGBTQ in North Carolina – and just how far off it seems to be.

This week’s Prosperity Watch highlights the Movement Advancement Project’s startlingly low score for LGBTQ equality in the state.

From the Prosperity Watch piece:

North Carolinians are vulnerable to being fired or denied a job just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no state laws protecting the LGBTQ community from housing, public accommodation, or credit and lending discrimination either.

The cumulative effect of this legal discrimination is pretty severe, especially since it’s layered with racial and gender discrimination. A recent Williams Institute report found that LGBT adults are more likely than non-LGBT adults to live under or close to the poverty line. Poverty rates are particularly high for lesbian and bisexual women (both single and in same-sex couples), LGBT people of color, and transgender adults. LGBT people, women, and people of color make up a disproportionate number of the minimum wage workforce, earning $7.25 an hour in a state where you need at least twice that much to afford housing. And the 25 percent of LGBT adults who are raising families also suffer from the lack of a state paid family leave law, so they can’t take time off to care for a sick child or spouse, or to bond with a new child.

 

Read the full state’s full MAP equality profile here.

News

Gov. Cooper announces he will veto state budget

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday that he will veto the budget passed by state legislators, calling it “short-sighted” and “small-minded.”

The veto, which Cooper said would come by the end of the day Monday, will be only the second budget veto by a governor in North Carolina history. The first, Governor Bev Perdue in 2011, was overridden.

Flanked by N.C. teachers, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday that he will veto the state budget.

In a press conference flanked by North Carolina teachers, Cooper acknowledged the GOP super-majority in the N.C. House and Senate have the votes to override this veto as well.

However, he said he would be willing to sign a revised budget after his veto if lawmakers were willing to make a few “simple” changes.

Those include:

1) Eliminating a corporate tax cut in the budget and limit the income tax cut to those making less than $150,000 per year.

2) Increase and broaden teacher pay raises, including both new and veteran teachers, and include a classroom supply stipend as Cooper did in his proposed budget.

3) Invest in increasing broadband across across the state.

4) Phase out the private school voucher program.

Most of those changes will be non-starters with Republican lawmakers, but Cooper said he will continue to urge “fair minded” Republican and Democrats who voted for the budget headed to his desk to do better.

“Our state’s growing,” cooper said. “We’re adding 110,000 people per year. That’s roughly the equivalent of adding a city the size of high point every year in population to our state. People want to live here, work here and raise families here.”

The state needs to honor that growth and “enable the big dreams” of the state’s people, Cooper said. It can do so by investing properly in education, infrastructure and future development, he said – and being sure that people across the state, regardless of their location or economic situation, share the same opportunities.

“The budget should ensure that a kid from Nash County gets the same great education as a kid from Wake County,” Cooper said. “That a budding entrepeneur in Jackson County can get the high speed Internet that her business needs to succeed and thrive, that our cities and towns can develop job ready sites with infrastructure for new and better paying jobs. We need a budget that helps us meet the potential of our state.”

“Unfortunately what the legislature passed and sent to me is not that budget,” Cooper said.