When we lost our son Jonathan to an opioid overdose at the age of 26, there was one thing we knew for sure: Our lives would never, ever be the same.
What we did not know was that we would become a part of a statewide network of parents scarred by the same life-altering experience – like our friends Randy Abbott (who lost his daughter Vanessa at 24), Debbie Dalton of (who lost her son Hunter at 23), and Steve Shelton (who lost his son Caleb at 27). We did not imagine that we would join together as activists and advocates for a single cause: to stop the killer that took away our children and ended the lives of more than 2,000 North Carolina residents in 2017 alone.
For all the progress we’ve made in fighting the opioid epidemic – the STOP Act, the HOPE Act, the Good Samaritan law, overdose reversal drugs, overdose response teams, and countless other efforts – there is one big problem that North Carolina has not tackled. Tens of thousands of people living with the disease of addiction – people who have gotten to a point where they need and want help – can’t get the detox, treatment, and recovery support they need. And all too often they can’t get the help they need for one simple reason: They don’t have health insurance.
When you expand access to health insurance, you increase the number of people in treatment and recovery, and you decrease the number of overdose deaths. Just look at Dayton, Ohio, ground zero for the opioid epidemic. The city of Dayton cut their overdose death rate in half in a single year after the state of Ohio accepted federal funds to expand access to health insurance.
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Here in North Carolina, Reps. Josh Dobson, Donny Lambeth, Greg Murphy and Donna White have introduced Carolina Cares, a proposal to use federal funds to close the “coverage gap” that leaves hundreds of thousands of low-income residents without access to health insurance or healthcare. We applaud this effort.
This is a fixable problem, and our message to state lawmakers is this: Fix it. Don’t fix it tomorrow; fix it today. Fix it before hundreds or thousands of our children, brothers, sisters, parents, coworkers, neighbors, and friends die unnecessarily, untreated for a treatable disease.
We cannot bring Jonathan, Vanessa, Hunter, or Caleb back to life. But we will join together and do everything in our power to speak up, speak out, and make sure that others do not have to endure the shock, agony, and pain we have lived with each and every day since our children overdosed and died.
On this day in North Carolina, if the average holds, five people will die of an opioid overdose. That’s five too many. We can do better.
Mike and Becky Cannon live in Wilson.