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Charlotte Area News

Cooper Renews Calls For NC Leaders To Tackle Opioid Abuse

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is repeating calls for substantive action to be taken to stem the number of opioid overdoses in North Carolina, which has steadily grown alongside national trends in the last 20 years.

Since 1999, opioid-related deaths in North Carolina have risen more than 800 percent, claiming more than 12,000 lives as of 2016, according to Cooper's office, and four people lose their life every day due to opioid overdoses in North Carolina.

In an interview Wednesday with WFAE's Charlotte Talks, Cooper emphasized his support of using long-term treatment and recovery programs to combat the epidemic.

"This vicious cycle of emergency room overdose to jail, back out again, another overdose, doesn't work," he said, "People who have substance use disorder have significant medical problems that have to be dealt with with treatment."

Since taking office, Cooper has made opioid abuse a key focus of his administration. In June, Cooper's office released an opioid action plan that called for reducing the oversupply of prescription opioids, curtailing the illegal distribution of opioids, and expanding treatment and recovery-oriented care, among other actions.

Cooper has also argued that expanding Medicaid in North Carolina would give people with opioid addictions access to more treatment options, though his efforts have been blocked by Republican leaders in the General Assembly who oppose any such expansion.

Cooper repeated his calls Wednesday to expand the program, and said he supported a bill proposed by four Republicans in the House that would provide health insurance to low-income residents between the ages of 19 and 64 who are employed or engaged in activities to promote employment. Backers of the bill are referring to the product as "Carolina Cares."

"We can get more people treated for their substance abuse addictions through this," Cooper said of the bill, "and we can do it in a way that most all of it is federal money and the other part of it can come from healthcare providers like hospitals in North Carolina so that no state tax money goes toward it."

WFAE's Tom Bullock contributed to this report.