By Taylor Knopf
Despite all the buzz this legislative session about the opioid addiction problem across North Carolina, the Senate budget didn’t include much money towards addiction recovery. And the House only added funds near the end of the budgeting process.
In April, House Appropriation Chair Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Cary) pledged to fund at least $20 million toward addiction recovery as part of the STOP Act (Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act).
During the House budget press conference on Thursday, Dollar said his chamber is still working on funds for the STOP Act.
The bill, heavily backed by Attorney General Josh Stein, Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, Gov. Roy Cooper and bipartisan House and Senate leaders, focuses on decreasing the number of narcotics in the state and adding substance abuse treatment services.
“We may address it today or address it in conference. We do intend to make sure that we have funds that we need to address the opioid crisis,” Dollar said.
But early Thursday, money just wasn’t there.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle put some pressure on Republican budget leaders about the lack of dollars.
Democrat Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (Wilson) said she went to Republican Health Committee co-chair Josh Dobson (R-Nebo) and said something about the lack of funding. She told Dobson and Greg Murphy (R-Greenville) that she might push for an amendment during the House budget debate.
“Dobson said, ‘Hm. If you’re gonna do that, let me talk to the [appropriations] chairs. Because you’re right, it does look strange that we don’t have any money in the budget,’” Farmer-Butterfield said.
“So, Rep. Murphy came over to me when we were getting ready to break for lunch and said, ‘You don’t have to worry. I’m going to do an amendment for $5 million.’”
During the evening debate, Murphy floated an amendment for the $5 million per year to go toward community-based substance abuse treatment programs. It passed unanimously.
Earlier in the day, Dollar said state officials have been discussing how to use the $31 million federal grant first, and then determine what state funds are needed where.
North Carolina has received a two-year grant, made possible by the 21st Century Cures Act passed in 2016, to fight opioid addiction. And 80 percent must be used on recovery and treatment services.
The state attorney general, who has been a force behind the STOP Act, said he’s been traveling the state visiting affected communities and there are not enough recovery resources.
“The federal funding announced last week is important, but we need similar commitment at the state and local levels to fund treatment to make a difference in this crisis,” Stein said.
“We believe the $5 million will go a long way to bridging what we believe the federal money will be able to cover on opioids and what will be needed that it is not able to cover,” Dollar said after the budget debate.
Who has pledged what
The governor’s proposed budget included $14 million to address the opioid crisis.
Senate lawmakers added almost $2 million for a pilot project minutes before they passed their budget, in addition to $250,000 in annual funds for a medication-assisted treatment pilot already written into the budget.[sponsor]
The senate also wrote into the budget that 86 percent of funds allocated to treatment from the state’s three Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Centers be used for opioid treatment and allocated $100,000 for naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, over the budget biennium.
House lawmakers budgeted $100,000 over the biennium in recurring funds for the purchase of naloxone to distribute to law enforcement and the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.
Mark Ezzell, executive director of Addiction Professionals of North Carolina, applauded lawmakers for providing more naloxone kits.
“Legislation like the STOP Act will help, provided it is accompanied by increased funding,” Ezzell said.
“It is likely that restrictions on prescribing opioids as outlined in that bill will lead some people who are already addicted to seek alternatives, such as heroin,” he added. “That is why it is so important the STOP Act also contain a financial commitment to fund long-term treatment programs to make sure that folks who switch to heroin get the continuing help they need.”
Rose Hoban added reporting to this story.