Politics & Government

NC Gov. Roy Cooper: Health care plan would hurt fight against opioid addiction

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that if the state’s U.S. senators, Republicans Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, want to help North Carolina deal with the opioid crisis, they would help stop the health care legislation now before Congress.

Speaking at the state’s annual Opioid Misuse and Prevention Summit at N.C. State University, Cooper said he spoke out about the importance of health care in fighting drug addiction with fellow members of President Donald Trump’s new Commission To Fight Opioid Abuse. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the Senate Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would raise the number of people without insurance by 22 million over the next decade.

“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,” Cooper said.

The summit at the McKimmon Center brought together hundreds of public health providers, members of law enforcement, academicians, medical administrators and activists. Cooper used the occasion to announce a series of steps to try to stem the number of opioid overdoses, which he said has claimed more than 12,000 lives in the state since 1999, including about 1,200 last year.

Cooper said the state’s strategy includes reducing over-prescription of opioid drugs by doctors and other medical providers and curtailing the flow of illicit drugs into the state, as well as expanding treatment and prevention options.

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

Deb Houry, a physician and researcher with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, told the summit attendees that opioids kill 90 people a day in America, cutting across all demographic lines. Houry said North Carolina has been hit hard, ranking 13th among states with highest rates of death due to drug overdoses.

“That’s not good,” she said. “That’s three times the rate that Europeans are dying of overdoses, so we have a ways to go.”

Houry said it was important for medical providers across the country to follow the CDC’s Opioid Prevention Initiative made public in March. Among the 12 recommendations outlined in the initiative are three key tenets: medical providers should first consider non-opioid therapy to manage a patient’s pain, unless it’s an end-of-life case. Also, doctors should prescribe the lowest possible opioid dosage and assess and monitor the patient’s treatment.

Cooper said it was important to diminish the social stigma attached to drug addiction, substance abuse and mental health.

“We don’t talk badly about people with cancer or heart problems. We have insurance to cover them. We try to help them,” he said. “The same thing should be done with mental health, addiction and substance abuse treatment.”

Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonald