Under the Dome

Doctor sees service in NC legislature as its own kind of ‘mission work’

Dr. Greg Murphy talks with Jasper Barrett at Eastern Urological Associates in Greenville on Thursday, April 30, 2015. Barrett had prostate cancer.
Dr. Greg Murphy talks with Jasper Barrett at Eastern Urological Associates in Greenville on Thursday, April 30, 2015. Barrett had prostate cancer. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Rep. Greg Murphy is one of a kind in the N.C. General Assembly – he’s the only physician.

The Pitt County urologic surgeon is still a practicing physician – even as the legislative week wrapped up in Raleigh, he was preparing to go home to see patients on Thursday night. Murphy, who chairs two health-related committees, never expected to take his medical experience and translate that into a career in politics.

“The last office I ran for was high school class president at Broughton High School,” Murphy said as he pointed out of his sixth-floor office window toward the Raleigh high school.

After completing a three-year term as chief of staff at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, he was approached in November 2015 about a vacancy created when Brian Brown left the District 9 seat to go work with U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. Murphy, a Republican, said at first he had no interest in the appointment.

“But doing a lot of prayer with my wife and through discussion with other folks, I felt like I brought a set of tools and a range of experiences that would be helpful to the citizens of North Carolina,” he said.

Murphy this week garnered attention after filing the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act. The House bill would require doctors, dentists, veterinarians and pharmacists to track prescriptions of opioid pain medication such as oxycodone and morphine.

Murphy, during a committee discussion on the bill Wednesday, said four people die in the state every day from opioid use or an overdose.

The issue isn’t just a professional concern for Murphy – it’s something that hits home as a father. Five young men that his children knew – from scouting, school and other activities – have died because of opioid use and addiction, he said.

“These were good kids that came from good families,” he said. “It just shows you that no one is immune to this problem.”

It was that connection and his experience in medicine that inspired Murphy to sponsor the proposed legislation – which includes $10 million in each of the next two years for increased community-based treatment and recovery services. The bill has garnered plenty of support from law enforcement and both Republicans and Democrats. On Thursday afternoon, the bill had 71 listed co-sponsors.

Murphy said he’s next working on legislation to raise the tobacco-purchasing age from 18 to 21. He said studies have shown that 90 percent of people who are addicted to tobacco products become addicted before the age of 21.

Murphy attended Davidson College before going to UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine. At Davidson, he studied pre-medicine and religion. He said he’s always had an interest in religion, and considered going into the ministry. “I found it interesting, fascinating. I feel it important that if one has beliefs, they need to have reasons for their beliefs,” he said.

When he’s not in Raleigh, he’s active in a church back in his district. He has also taken numerous medical mission trips over the past 30 years. His first came at the age of 20: a three-month stay in India at a leprosy hospital.

Since then, he’s made trips to various places in Africa and has been traveling to Nicaragua for 15 years. His latest missions have taken him to Haiti, where Murphy says he works with the “modern day Mother Teresa” – Father Rick Frechette, a Catholic priest. And yes, Murphy met Mother Teresa herself.

“This mission work in Raleigh puts somewhat of a hamper on my overseas mission work, but I still stay in concert with it,” Murphy said.

Lauren Horsch: 919-836-2801, @LaurenHorsch