Two years of “Hope Initiative” opioid addiction battle

Nashville Police Chief Thomas Bashore

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s coverage of the opioid crisis, you’ll want to read this week’s guest column from Nashville, NC Police Chief Thomas Bashore in the Wilson Times.

Bashore writes about his department’s “Hope Initiative,” which encourages those experiencing addiction to seek treatment through the department without fear of arrest.

At the two-year mark, Bashore said the program is helping change the way those with addiction issues view the police and the way the community – and the state – views addiction.

From the piece:

“I am often asked ‘how successful is the program?’ This, of course, is a difficult question to answer, but let me try.

Of the 320 participants who have come through the program, 271 have detoxed, 155 have been placed into a long-term residential program and eight of those were individuals who were incarcerated and released from jail to attend treatment programs. As we have tracked as many participants as possible, fewer than 60 have returned to use.

We have had 192 men and 128 women. We have helped 260 participants with opioid use disorders, 21 alcohol use disorders, nine stimulant use disorders and 30 other substance use disorders.

We have raised almost $65,000 from grants, fundraisers and generous donations from citizens and businesses alike. We have a dedicated volunteer base that helps with finding resources, compassionate listening and transportation issues.

We have been recognized by Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein as having a model program that helps anyone in the state and beyond with their disease. We have helped countless families with their struggles of having someone in their family who has this awful disease as well. We do this with compassion and commitment to assist those seeking a path to recovery.”

Read the whole thing here.


Higher Education, LGBTQ groups oppose PROSPER Act

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) is one of a number of Republicans in Congress pushing the PROSPER Act, which they call “higher education’s long overdue reform.”

But a number of prominent higher education voices and LGBTQ groups are pushing back on the act, saying it will further restrict access to higher education and could make it harder to enforce anti-discrimination policies.

In a joint statement with Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) Foxx, in her role as chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, recently touted the act despite mounting criticisms since it came out of committee back in December.

“With six million unfilled jobs and over a trillion dollars in student debt, simply reauthorizing the Higher Education Act will help no one,” the joint statemtn read. “A hard truth that students, families, and institutions must face is that the promise of a postsecondary education is broken. We need a higher education system that is designed to meet the needs of today’s students and has the flexibility to innovate for tomorrow’s workforce opportunities.”

A recent NBC News report outlined concerns about the 600-page bill’s emphasis on religious liberty allowing for more religious discrimination, as in the recent case of a University of Iowa’s Business Leaders in Christ student group, which sued the school for the right to prevent gay students from holding leadership positions.

From the report:

Jenny Pizer, law and policy director at Lambda Legal, told NBC News this provision fails to recognize that colleges and universities are already grappling with the “best way to maintain an environment open to diverse opinions” while at the same time protecting the wellbeing of all students on campus.

“A school should be able to say, ‘We are only giving official recognition and support to groups that are not discriminatory.’”

 Pizer said organizations like BLinC are trying to “have it both ways.” Namely, she said, they want to be able to exclude certain students while still receiving university (and taxpayer) funds while doing so.

“That’s what the extreme right is pushing for here,” she added.


On Monday a group of 35 Higher Education groups sent a letter to House leaders opposing the act.





WUNC on the patients, prescribers and politics of the opioid crisis

WUNC continues its great coverage of the opioid crisis this week with both a piece on Gov. Roy Cooper looking at its devastation first-hand in my old stomping grounds of High Point and a piece looking at how and why opioids are prescribed and how law enforcement deals with their abuse.

From Don Teater, a family medicine doctor who practices in Waynesville, NC featured in one of the stories:

“I think it’s important that they find a physician or prescriber who does understand pain and can really determine what their pain is … For most people that are suffering from their chronic pain there’s probably a significant element of central sensitization. And this central sensitization, again, means the brain wiring has changed in a way that their emotions, their thoughts, their fears, their memories – all these kind of play into how much pain they feel. So we need to be identifying that and addressing that. And so I really firmly believe that the cornerstone of treatment for chronic pain needs to be the behavioral therapist. Because functional MRI studies have shown that they can actually start to change that wiring to make it back to normal in the brain. So they help actually fix the problem.”

From reporter Jason Debruyn on Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion programs (LEAD):

“Fayetteville is doing it, Wilmington, Waynesville is doing it. And basically what this is is  … If you are exchanging sex for drugs, or if you are a low-level drug user yourself, instead of arresting you, throwing you in jail and trying to prosecute you, what police officers are now encouraged to do is to take you to a treatment center and have you seek help for your drug addiction … We talked a little bit about the crack epidemic that was, what, 30 years ago. That was very strong arrest, put in jail and try to tackle the situation that way. This is much different, where it’s more coming to the user and saying: Hey, how can we help you? What are things we can do to get you to step down your use even if we don’t get you to quit completely right away. How can we step down your drug abuse?”


The unintended consequences of the opioid battle

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s ongoing coverage of the opioid crisis, a piece from WUNC is worth your time today.

The story, which centers on a Jackson Springs man whose back injury has meant long-term pain management, examines the flip side of more stringent recent controls for opioid medication: a stigma for those who need but are not abusing it.

From the piece:

Pollard says he takes his medication as prescribed, and even tries to take less when he can. At times, he said he has shown his physician bottles that still have pills in them, even after the prescription should have run out.

But, he says that now when he goes to see pain specialists, they make him feel like a criminal. Like all he wants are more pills to abuse.

“They treat you like you’re a lesser class citizen,” said Pollard, while sitting on his front porch on a recent evening after work. “Everybody that walks through the door is not there for pain management. They are there to seek narcotics. That’s the way they feel. That’s the way they treat you.”

With more than 12,000 North Carolinians having died from overdoses in the last 18 years, the provisions of the STOP Act have been seen as long overdue to correct over-prescription and drug seeking behavior.

But as this story demonstrates – and as we’ve heard from some with chronic pain ourselves in reporting stories around this issue – it’s also led to a greater stigma among both doctors and patients that may make them hesitant to prescribe pain management drugs that are genuinely needed.


UNC Board of Governors chairman defends call for board unity, rejection of partisanship

UNC Board of Governors
Chairman Louis Bissette Jr.

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Louis Bissette Jr. once again found himself playing defense against his own board Friday, when members took him to task for penning  an op-ed in which he encouraged the board to avoid political partisanship and unite for the good of the UNC system and the state.

Board member Bob Rucho took the unusual step of publicly asking Bissette to explain himself during the board’s meeting in an exchange Bissette joked might, in another time, have been a duel between the two.

“There are a number of board members who feel that we need to understand why our chairman, the Board of Governors’ chairman, made a public comment critical of the board in some estimations rather than consulting with board members directly about your concerns,” Rucho said.

Rucho, a Republican from Matthews, is part of an aggressive conservative wing of the board that has clashed with Bissette and UNC President Margaret Spellings over the last year and feel Bissette’s remarks were aimed at them.

Before being appointed to the board last year Rucho spent 17 years in the legislature, where he held some key leaderrship roles. Rucho was also one of the most conservative and combative of GOP legislators, his controversial behavior in the legislature sometimes even leading to conflicts with his own party, Memorably, he once tweeted that the Affordable Care Act and the Supreme Court’s decision upholding it did “more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis, Soviets & terrorists combined.” Rucho refused to apologize for the comments, even when asked to do so by the chairman of the state GOP, calling his critics “the socialist elite.”

UNC Board of Governors member Bob Rucho

Bissette and Spellings have found themselves at odds with the board’s more politically aggressive members of the board, including a number of embarassing public controversies wherein they were criticized and their judgement questioned in public letters and heated e-mail exchanges.

Bissette  defended himself Friday, saying he did not intend the column as “a slam” against the Board of Governors. He blamed that perception, shared by members of the board and the conservative James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, on the headline chosen when his column was published in the Charlotte Observer.

Bissette intended the column to be titled “UNC Board of Governors – Year in Review,” as it was when it appeared as part of the Higher Education Works EdTalk series. But when published in the Charlotte Observer, it carried the headline “UNC Board of Governors chair: We need to stay out of politics.”

Bisette blamed the headline for a misperception of the column, but said he stood behind its content and does not think he needed permission or pre-approval from the board to make a public statement about the board’s work.

“I would never advocate a policy which would require some type of pre-approval by the board, which would restrict your rights,” Bissette said, pointing to outspoken members like Harry Smith, Marty Kotis and Rucho himself as examples of board members who speak their mind as they see fit.

While Bissette said he did not intend to criticize the current board, which has been mired by in-fighting and ideological squabbles for months, several members said they thought his column spoke for itself.

Bissette wrote: Read more