We’ve made important progress, but we’ve got so much more to do.

The faces of people and families deeply affected by this epidemic are seared into our memories. Too many faces. Like you, I have sat with them in communities across our state… Grief-stricken parents who watched children slip away; families frantic that today’s phone call could be the last. People shackled by substance use disorder who wanted to heal, who wanted their lives back — but didn’t have access to the treatment to be set free from addiction. Employers losing good workers and children losing parents to the grip of these drugs.

Opioid overdoses claimed more than 13,000 lives in our state since 1999, and we — and that includes each and every one of you — refuse to stand by and watch the devastation continue. Two years ago, at this summit Dr. Cohen and I shared with you the North Carolina Opioid Action Plan.

Today, I’m here to tell you we’ve made important progress — but that we’ve got so much more to do.

Thanks to unprecedented organization, collaboration and investment from partners in health care, law enforcement, insurance and all levels of government, opioid dispensing has dropped 24 percent since the launch of the plan. That’s a strong number.

Other positive numbers show that in that time frame, prescriptions for drugs used to treatopioid use disorders increased by 15 percent in that time frame. And treatment for opioid use disorder among uninsured people or those on Medicaid increased by 20 percent.

And, finally, for the first time, emergency department visits for opioid overdoses have declined instead of increased.

This means we’re making headway. The numbers show the progress, but it’s the stories that paint a picture. Behind those numbers are lives saved, families kept whole. It shows that doctors, counselors, law enforcement officers, insurers, social workers in partnership can work. But we haven’t won yet. We have not yet stopped this disease in our state. So many families and their loved ones are still suffering, and we must do more.

That’s why we’re launching the North Carolina Opioid Action Plan 2.0 here today.

With three main planks: prevent, reduce harm, and connect to care, this updated plan will build on our success. Our goal is unwavering — and we will use what we have learned over these past two years to save people who struggle with disease and its effects… and together, we will reduce opioid overdose deaths.

Together, we’ll fight drug traffickers who push heroin and deadly fentanyl. We’ll find more ways to curb opioid use, and connect people to health care that makes a life-or-death difference when fighting opioid addiction. We will keep measuring our progress along the way, building on what the evidence shows works to help prevent the next wave of the epidemic. That way we can reduce opioid overdose deaths by 20 percent by 2021, and keep saving lives.

One proven way to fight addiction is to increase access to life-saving healthcare. And to make sure we save more lives, we’re going to keep fighting to expand Medicaid in North Carolina.

Medicaid expansion would insure over half a million North Carolinians, many of whom struggle with access to care and paying for life and death treatment they need. It would lower health care costs for people with private insurance, and reduce the strain on emergency services. As a bonus it will create thousands of good-paying jobs. In short, Medicaid momentum is the kind of momentum we need to stop the opioid crisis in our state.

Other states that have expanded Medicaid are ahead of us. In Ohio, Medicaid expansion helped 75 percent of previously uninsured people with substance use disorders get better access to care. And in the city of Dayton, which had some of the highest opioid death rates in the country, fatalities dropped by over 50 percent. Fact — North Carolina can save lives by expanding Medicaid.

Today, half of all people hospitalized with an opioid overdose in our state are uninsured. We can’t let barriers to affordable health care coverage be a death sentence. North Carolina deserves better.

That is why my budget prioritized expanding Medicaid, along with law enforcement supported pre-arrest diversion programs that send people willing to get help to treatment instead of jail. I also want more staff at the State Crime Lab to address growing submissions of evidence related to the opioid epidemic.

My budget proposal also provides for Specialty Courts to target people whose drug use is the underlying cause of their crimes. And we should give first responders the ability to get individuals into substance abuse treatment immediately after an overdose, instead of just offering emergency care.

When I signed the Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Enforcement (HOPE) Act, it ensured that fentanyl is recognized as the deadly drug it is… and it gave law enforcement information they need to investigate diversion of prescription drugs.

As Governor, my mission statement is this: I want a North Carolina where people are better educated, where they are healthier, where they have more money in their pockets, and they have opportunities to live lives of purpose and abundance. This Opioid Action Plan 2.0 will help further that mission.

If we work together to fight substance use disorder and get affordable, high-quality health care coverage to those who need it, we will reach the goals we set for North Carolina over the next few years. And we should insist on exceeding them.

Thank you for all you are doing to get our state on the right track. Thank you for your work over these last two years, and your ongoing commitment to keep collaborating, to keep learning and keep speaking truth to those who waver on using their power to expand access to care.

I look forward to seeing what more we can accomplish in this fight together.

Remarks as prepared for Gov. Roy Cooper June 11, 2019, Opioid Misuse and Overdose Prevention Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Roy Cooper understands the challenges facing our families and communities and wants to build a North Carolina that works for everyone.

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