Governor Roy Cooper, News, public health

At Opioid Summit, experts call for Medicaid expansion

A new “Opioid Action Plan 2.0” unveiled Wednesday by North Carolina officials aims to combat the lingering narcotic crisis with new, youth-targeted programs, tougher laws and greater access to the drug naloxone, used to treat or reverse opioid overdoses.

“I’m going to work with all of you to make sure that we reduce opioid deaths in North Carolina and that we meet this problem head on,” said Governor Roy Cooper at the opening of the 2019 Opioid Misuse and Overdose Prevention Summit, a conference supported by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The updated plan uses “feedback from partners and stakeholders,” according to a press release by the Governor’s Office.

The original N.C. Opioid Action Plan, released in 2017, identified the steps that the DHHS aimed to take in order to reduce the number of deaths from the opioid epidemic.

Officials introduced the new plan during the second and final day of the Opioid Summit.

At the opening of the summit Tuesday, Cooper highlighted the progress made since the plan was launched. According to Cooper, since 2017, the number of prescriptions for opioids has decreased by 24 percent and the number of emergency department visits for opioid overdoses decreased by nearly 10 percent from 2017 to 2018.

But the most important step, according to the DHHS? Medicaid expansion.

“We need to close the coverage gap if we are to make serious headway against this epidemic, as they have done in other states,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC DHHS.

Numerous studies have shown that expanding Medicaid and closing the coverage gap has led to a decline in opioid overdoses by increasing substance use disorder treatment. According to the Opioid Action Plan 2.0, an estimated 89 percent of people who are in need of substance use disorder treatment do not receive it.

“The progress we’ve made shows what we can achieve when we partner across agencies and organizations and with those on the ground in communities,” said Cohen in a press release. “But there is much more to do. Moving forward we need to work even harder to focus on prevention, reduce harm and connect people to care.”


At “Tuesdays with Tillis,” abortion rights advocates slam senator for wave of anti-choice legislation

A protester at “Tuesdays with Tillis” this week. (Photo taken by Aditi Kharod)

“We won’t go back to hangers if our right to choose is banned,” sang the Raging Grannies, to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” just one of several shots taken Tuesday at U.S. Senator Thom Tillis during this week’s “Tuesdays with Tillis” protest.

Today marked the 125th consecutive week that a group of activists has demonstrated outside of the North Carolina senator’s office in Raleigh. The event garners a steady crowd of about 25 to 30 and focuses on various sociopolitical issues.

Advocates at today’s rally, co-sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina and the North Carolina chapter of the National Organization for Women, condemned Tillis for supporting a spate of abortion bans and limits at the federal and state levels.

The senator has a lengthy history of support for anti-choice legislation.

“We don’t believe he’s representing the people of North Carolina,” said Karen Ziegler, one of the core organizers of the protests. “We feel like he’s… supporting extremist views that are terribly oppressive to women, and are literally killing women, and also, we feel that he’s covering up for the President’s lies and crimes.”

“We’ve seen so many attacks around the country on abortion access,” said Tara Romano, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. “And we know that [anti-abortion legislators] want to overturn Roe [v. Wade]… That’s been their goal, to criminalize abortion, criminalize the people who provide abortion, and criminalize the people who get abortions. So we are here to talk about what’s been going on in the state… and what Senator Tillis has done opposed to women’s health since he’s been in the Senate.”

NARAL supports access to affordable birth control, prenatal care, and safe and legal abortion. “[Tillis] has pretty much voted against all those things,” added Romano.

The rally today also featured Kelsea McLain, community outreach director for A Woman’s Choice abortion clinic, who spoke about the recently upheld veto of Senate Bill 359 and the goal of its proponents: “To further stigmatize abortion and the providers of abortion services,” according to McLean.

“In fact,” McLean continued, “a state that wants to protect all life would work to expand Medicaid and ensure that all pregnant people, all born people, all children and their parents have the ability to access affordable healthcare.”


Governor’s veto of “born-alive” bill is sustained despite passionate pleas to mix religion and policy

Yesterday, the state House of Representatives voted to sustain Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 359, the so-called “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.”

Senator Joyce Krawiec (R-Davie), the primary sponsor of the bill, as well as House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), repeatedly stated that the bill was “not about abortion.”

“Today’s bill we are discussing is when a child is born alive,” said Speaker Moore at a press conference he held before the vote, “and what the standard of care is for that child at that time.”

What is the standard of care for that child at that time? According to legal experts, it’s the exact same standard of care as any other child born in any other circumstance would receive.

“If a parent doesn’t feed their newborn and it dies, they get charged with murder,” said Greg Doucette, a Durham-based criminal defense attorney, to PolitiFact. “I don’t see why a medical provider would be substantively different.”

The Moore press conference featured a pair of women who identified themselves as “abortion survivors,” Gianna Jessen and Claire Culwell, who emphasized that lawmakers would have to answer to God about their votes.

“We’re told, ‘Don’t bring religion into anything. Oh no, we can’t have God, who brings life,’” said Jessen. “Oh, never say Jesus! But I will… You will stand before a holy God one day. We all will.”

Unfortunately for the bill and fortunately for our democracy, “because I think Jesus Christ would have wanted it” is not a reasonable justification for a law.

The debate on the House floor, which lasted over an hour, featured some remarkable statements from bill proponents.

Representative Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus), who once infamously described Abraham Lincoln as the “same sort (of) tyrant” as Adolf Hitler, told a long and bizarre story about a college professor of his who had murdered a woman in a fit of rage after she called him a “little shrimp” and threatened to expose an affair they had had if he did not return some money she had given him. Rep. Pittman said that Democrats who voted to sustain Gov. Cooper’s veto would be as guilty as that professor. Seems like a stretch, but it’s not surprising given Rep. Pittman’s history of untrue and inflammatory statements.

In a moment that might have left some observers feeling as if they’d been transported via time warp back to the 1950s, Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus) Read more


Legislation designed to expand broadband access becomes law despite lawmaker’s constitutional concerns

Broadband is the latest infrastructure quickly becoming essential for individuals and industries across the country. Students increasingly need high-speed Internet to do their homework, doctors need it to access patient files, and farmers need it to get market information. High-speed Internet is widely available in most urban areas in the United States, but residents and businesses in rural areas are being left out. According to a poll by NPR, 21% of rural Americans say it is difficult for them to access high-speed Internet.

For certain populations, the lack of high-speed Internet is a nuisance. Students often have to congregate in public Wi-Fi hubs in order to get work done, and uploading files takes much longer than is efficient. For others, it is a matter of life and death. Older and disabled Americans in rural areas largely rely on the Internet to get medical advice and prescriptions. According to the NPR poll, 68% of rural Americans use the Internet to obtain health information.

According to a recent report by the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, the broadband access gap is even wider for low-income folks. While access is overall much more limited in rural areas than in urban areas, rural households with incomes over $75,000 are less likely to lack broadband access than are rural households with incomes under $20,000. According to this report, the unwillingness of private markets to extend to areas without a large population, especially when residents of the area are low-income, is a factor in reinforcing “intergenerational cycles of poverty.”

Both this report and a report by the North Carolina League of Municipalities advocate for government involvement that would treat broadband as a public good rather than solely a private investment.

Senate Bill 310, a bipartisan bill primarily sponsored by Senators Harry Brown (R-Jones), Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus), and Mike Woodard (D-Durham), aimed to facilitate this goal by allowing electric membership corporations (i.e. electric cooperatives) to seek federal grant funds to provide broadband services to rural North Carolinians. It passed almost unanimously last Tuesday, the one “no” vote coming from Representative Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford).

Rep. Pricey Harrison

“The bill is unconstitutional,” said Rep. Harrison when asked why she voted against it. In an email, she stated that her legislative staff had repeatedly found issues with Section 2 of the bill, which allows easements used by electric companies for electrification purposes to also be used to provide broadband services. She identified issues with the takings clause, the contract clause, and access to courts due to the provision in Section 2 that would prevent class actions from being filed against electric corporations in trespass suits.

“I otherwise like the bill but didn’t feel I could support it with unconstitutional provisions,” Rep. Harrison said.

Another bill that aims to foster infrastructure for broadband expansion, the FIBER NC Act, has been stuck in committee for over two months. Read more


NC federal judge formalizes ruling that Roe v. Wade is still the law

In March, U.S. District Judge William Osteen, Jr. struck down a longstanding North Carolina law that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergency. At the time of the decision, Judge Osteen wrote that the state did not have the right to impose a ban that prevented a woman from choosing to have an abortion prior to viability, and referenced the Supreme Court’s “clear pronouncements on the pre-viability right to choose to have an abortion” as decided over 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade. At the time, Judge Osteen stated that the decision would take effect in 60 days.

On Friday, those 60 days were up. Judge Osteen formally issued his decision, stating that the 60-day delay had been designed in part to “permit full consideration of legislative alternatives,” or give legislators time to replace the law with another. This has not happened.

Osteen’s decision reinforced that Roe is still the law of the land, a pronouncement that may come under contention as a spate of new abortion bans pass across the country and are likely to be challenged in court. There are concerns that laws such as the recently enacted Alabama abortion ban or the Georgia fetal heartbeat bill could be the catalysts for overturning Roe, and some lawmakers, such as Iowa State Representative Shannon Lundgren, have explicitly stated that challenging Roe is their primary goal. “It is time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of life,” said Rep. Lundgren in 2018.

“[O]pponents of abortion rights are emboldened,” said the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina in a statement last Thursday. “They know they have a friend in the White House, and they think the Supreme Court might be theirs as well.”

Judge Osteen’s ruling comes as a victory for the ACLU, which filed the lawsuit along with the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood.

The state has 30 days to appeal the ruling. The case is currently under review by the North Carolina Department of Justice, which will confer with legislative leaders before deciding whether or not to appeal.

Aditi Kharod is a student at UNC Chapel Hill and an intern at NC Policy Watch.