Politics & Government

Commission OKs 56 ways to curb opioid crisis. Cooper asks: Who will follow through?

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper participates in a panel discussion during a session called "Curbing The Opioid Epidemic" at the first day of the National Governor's Association meeting Thursday, July 13, 2017, in Providence, R.I.
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper participates in a panel discussion during a session called "Curbing The Opioid Epidemic" at the first day of the National Governor's Association meeting Thursday, July 13, 2017, in Providence, R.I. AP

The president’s opioid commission had not yet finished its final meeting Wednesday when North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper highlighted the group’s biggest challenge.

“We have to make sure that this good report involves real follow-through, as that is critical,” said Cooper, a first-term Democrat who joined the fifth and final meeting of the commission via phone from North Carolina. “This epidemic is unacceptable.”

The President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and Opioid Crisis approved its final report, complete with 56 recommendations for fighting the opioid epidemic. Earlier this year, the group approved nine preliminary recommendations, including declaring the crisis a national emergency.

“The opioid crisis is real. People’s lives and our economy depend on strong and decisive action,” said Cooper, who called on the federal government to “allocate significant federal funding for this public health crisis.”

President Donald Trump officially declared a “public health emergency” last week. But the nation’s Public Health Emergency Fund has just $57,000 in it, and Trump did not promise any new money.

In his final remarks, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the committee’s chairman and a Republican, said he had confidence that Trump would lead on the issue and urged Congress to appropriate funds to help implement the recommendations.

“If a terrorist organization was killing 175 Americans a day on American soil, what would you be willing to pay to make it stop? I think we’d be willing to do anything and everything to make it stop,” Christie said before the final vote.

“This is an attack from within. We are killing ourselves. And it is unacceptable, from my perspective, not to step up to the fight and do things, everything, that needs to be done to stop the dying and stop the suffering.”

Cooper was one of three governors on the commission, joining Christie and Massachusetts Gov. Peter Baker as well as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Bertha Madras, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

North Carolina is among the states that have been hardest hit by the opioid crisis. Since 1999, more than 12,000 North Carolina residents died from opioid-related overdoses. And the death toll is rising, reaching more than 1,100 in 2015 alone, according to data from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

The commission’s recommendations touched on nearly every aspect of the far-reaching problem: from education to different courses of action for pain management, from the establishment of federal drug courts to stricter enforcement all along the supply chain for prescription medication — from manufacturing through doctors and pharmacies and to home storage and disposal.

“We also urge that federal agencies require prescribers to check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to prevent doctor shopping, as we have done here in North Carolina with the bipartisan STOP Act,” Cooper said in a statement after the meeting.

The STOP Act, which passed both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly unanimously and was signed into law by Cooper in June, limits how long opioids can be prescribed for short-term pain at an initial medical appointment (no more than five days) and after surgery (no more than seven) and requires prescribers to review patient’s histories using the North Carolina Controlled Substances Reporting System.

At Wednesday’s White House meeting, the commission heard emotional stories from parents who had lost children to opioid overdoses and from recovering addicts.

“In the end, the work of this commission is about the lives that are lost and the lives that we hope we can save,” Christie said.

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