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To fight opioid crisis, we need to increase funding for treatment, says N.C. governor

August 1, 2017 at 6:25 PM EDT
What needs to be done to combat the national opioid crisis? A commission organized by President Trump released its initial recommendations on Monday, saying it was time to declare a national health emergency, among other suggestions. Special correspondent Nick Schifrin talks with Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C., a member of the commission, about what would help ease the epidemic.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now let’s turn to the opioid crisis in this country and the federal government’s response.

Since he was elected, President Trump called on a White House panel to recommend what more need to be done. The commission, chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is expected to issue a final report this fall.

But, in the meantime, the commission released its initial recommendations yesterday, saying it was time to declare a national health emergency.

Special correspondent Nick Schifrin has the story. It’s part of our ongoing coverage of the problem, called America Addicted.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Every year, drug overdoses kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined; 142 Americans die every day from opioids. That’s the same toll as on 9/11 every three weeks. And since 1999, the number of opioid overdoses in the U.S. have quadrupled.

So, the commission suggests not only to declare a national emergency, but increase treatment under Medicaid, educate doctors on how to better prescribe opioids, and increase use of medication that helps people overcome addiction.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is a member of the commission, and joins me now.

Governor, thank you very much for joining us.

There are already about three dozen declared national emergencies. Why would President Trump declaring another national emergency help?

GOV. ROY COOPER, D-N.C.: Well, 142 people a day dying in the United States is completely unacceptable, and this is a fixable problem if we work together in a bipartisan way.

It could free up federal funds. It could also allow states to have the flexibility to provide more treatment. And we’re working together to make sure we address this problem, and it’s something we need to do right now.

NICK SCHIFRIN: The report singles out Medicaid especially as the best way to increase treatment.

As you know, the president, to whom this report is directed, has endorsed repeals of the Affordable Care Act that would actually reduce Medicaid reach. How do you square that circle?

GOV. ROY COOPER: Yes, this is one of the problems with the commission right now.

The report is incomplete. We’re whistling past the graveyard if we don’t recognize that, in order to provide treatment, that we have to increase Medicaid funding to the states, and we have to make sure that every American has good, quality health insurance that covers substance abuse and addiction treatment.

And even law enforcement is recognizing that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Even law enforcement wants treatment for people who are addicted to opioids. We have to make sure that we fund this treatment.

We have a law enforcement-assisted diversion program here in North Carolina where law enforcement is actually asking for these treatment centers. They know that they can’t keep arresting people, then overdosing, sending them to emergency rooms, getting back out, arrested again. That’s a vicious cycle that’s not working.

NICK SCHIFRIN: The report goes deep into how important it is to get to medication that helps overcome addiction. But there is some stigma over that.

There is a stigma of treating drugs with more drugs. How do you overcome that stigma?

GOV. ROY COOPER: I think it’s clear that data shows that medication-assisted treatment can be effective to help people with opioid addiction, and I’m glad the report gets into this and makes recommendations on it.

In fact, I think that it needs to be expanded. The data is pretty clear. It’s also clear that individuals react differently to different medications. So, you have to have providers who are trained in medication-assisted treatment.

But I think it’s a positive thing. This is a crisis. We have got opioid addiction that’s killing people. If Medicaid-assisted treatment — medication-assisted treatment is helpful to them, then we want to make sure that it’s available to them.

NICK SCHIFRIN: The report talks about the importance of educating doctors on how to prescribe medication that helps overcome addiction. But there have been reeducation efforts on that for the last year. Why would these recommendations succeed perhaps when others haven’t?

GOV. ROY COOPER: Well, I think it puts an emphasis on it across the board, that every single medical provider needs to be taught about the problems of addiction.

I know that, when these opioids first appeared on the scene, particularly the super powerful ones, doctors were prescribing them in bunches for pain relief, with little thought to the addiction that occurs subsequently to a lot of people.

(CROSSTALK)

NICK SCHIFRIN: Forgive my interruption, Governor.

Do you think that the medical providers don’t have the up-to-date information now and need to have better information and more modern drugs?

GOV. ROY COOPER: A lot of them aren’t even checking the prescription drug monitoring programs.

For example, someone comes in and asks for a prescription, the prescription is written, these medical providers should check the monitoring system to determine whether they have gone to another doctor to get the same prescription.

So it’s pretty clear to me that we aren’t up to speed yet across the country with educating all medical providers as to the problem and the steps that they need to take in order to prevent people from getting addicted to opioids. There’s a lot we can do in that arena.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Governor, thank you very much, Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina. We appreciate it.

GOV. ROY COOPER: Thank you.

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