Cooper pitches Medicaid expansion as weapon in opioids battle

Posted June 11, 2019 12:18 p.m. EDT
Updated June 11, 2019 3:25 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina is making progress in the fight against opioids, Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday, but there's still much work to do, and Medicaid expansion would make a huge difference in that fight.

Speaking at the Opioid Misuse and Overdose Prevention Summit at the North Carolina State University's McKimmon Center, Cooper said opioid prescriptions have dropped by 24 percent since the state launched its first opioid action plan two years ago. Also, emergency room visits for opioid misuse have declined by 10 percent after years of steady increases, he said.

North Carolina will continue to focus on prevention in the battle against opioid addiction, but the state will now put more focus on access to care, he said.

More than half the people who are hospitalized for opioid addiction are uninsured, and they often can't afford to pay for treatment, Cooper said. In some areas, there aren't even any treatment programs available.

Expanding the Medicaid program to tens of thousands of low-income working adults would change the landscape in fighting opioid addiction, the governor said.

"You hear law enforcement say [addicts] need to be in treatment, they need help. Law enforcement, they know where they need to be, but often, there's no place for them to go, particularly in the rural areas," he said. "This, again, is why Medicaid expansion is key to this issue."

Studies show states with Medicaid expansion have made more progress in fighting opioids than states without it.

Access to treatment was a point of emphasis for several speakers at the summit.

"The progress we’ve made shows what we can achieve when we partner across agencies and organizations and with those on the ground in communities," said Dr. Many Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services. "Moving forward, we need to work even harder to focus on prevention, reduce harm and connect people to care."