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Attorney General Josh Stein’s Column: Fight the Opioid Epidemic, Expand Medicaid

Attorney General Josh Stein
October 2022

The opioid epidemic has left a trail of death and destruction in its wake all across North Carolina, and too many families have experienced tragic loss. Since I was sworn into my first term as your Attorney General in 2017, I have made confronting this epidemic my top priority. We have made important progress, including North Carolina’s $750 million share of the $26 billion national opioid settlement.

We’re holding the companies that created and fueled this crisis accountable – and using their ill-gotten gains to fund treatment and recovery services for the people who are struggling with substance use disorder. We’re also making important strides in preventing the disease of addiction via the STOP Act and working with law enforcement to hold drug traffickers accountable at the same time we move more people with addiction out of the criminal justice system and into the health care system.

Despite these efforts, the rates of overdose and death continue to rise – more than 100,000 Americans died of an overdose last year – a record we never want to see broken again. The cost of the crisis in human lives is too high to leave any potential solution on the table.

To overcome addiction, people need access to treatment and recovery services. Service providers need to be paid for providing them. That’s why we have health insurance. Yet, the state of North Carolina remains one of few states declining to the take the federal government up on its offer to expand Medicaid. That means that too many people suffering from opioid use disorder cannot access treatment that could save their lives.

When people have health insurance, they are better equipped to access life-saving medication, counseling, treatment, and recovery services. They’re more likely to stay in recovery and live healthy lives. When they don’t have a means to pay for their care, they are less likely to even try to achieve recovery. According to Care4Carolina, “people with Medicaid are nearly twice as likely to receive the treatment that they need. But in North Carolina, about 1/3 of people seeking care for drug overdoses in emergency departments are uninsured.” More people with a means to pay for care will also enable more providers to open up more clinics to help. Other states that have expanded coverage report an 18 percent drop in people unable to get the addiction services they need.

Failing to expand Medicaid also overburdens our hospitals and their emergency departments, leaving them with not enough resources to treat others who come in seeking help for other health issues. Particularly in the rural areas of our state, hospitals are desperate for the additional Medicaid funds so they can continue providing medical care of all types for their community members.

The opioid crisis is the deadliest drug epidemic in our nation’s history. Too many people are dying, yet our state is failing to perform the single most important act it could to address the opioid problem. We are leaving billions of our own dollars on the table as we’ve already paid these funds to the federal government. Let’s say yes so we can save lives, strengthen struggling rural hospitals, and create thousands of health care jobs to better serve our people. Please contact your state legislators with a simple ask: expand Medicaid and save lives.

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