The Opioid Crisis: Medicaid Expansion and Medical Cannabis in NC

The opioid crisis is a hitting our nation hard, but we're feeling the repercussions of it with particular weight in the state of North Carolina. While this is a complicated issue that will take time to fully heal, there are many actions that could accelerate our recovery stage if the North Carolina General Assembly simply made the right decisions. Without Medicaid expansion, many fall into the insurance coverage gap, which makes it simply unaffordable for many in need to seek the help that they need.

NC Child - The Child Welfare Impact of the Opioid Epidemic

 *Source: NC Child

*Source: NC Child

Recently, NC Child released a study that measured the impact of the opioid crisis on another issue we're facing in NC: the high number of children in foster care. Their study concluded that the opioid epidemic drives more children into foster care as a result of addiction, with the statewide average at 39%. In rural areas, that number is much higher. In Burke County we are one of the hardest hit counties across the state with an average of 69%.

   North Carolina has a 39% rate of children in foster care due to opioid addiction. In Burke County it's one of the highest averages: 69%.

North Carolina has a 39% rate of children in foster care due to opioid addiction. In Burke County it's one of the highest averages: 69%.

Experts agree that it's best to avoid the child's entry into foster care for as long as possible and keep them in their home, as long as parental health issues are addressed. North Carolina can do more, the study concluded, to help their families achieve this goal by giving them the assistance they need.

The study furthermore elaborates that:

"North Carolina is currently considering a proposal to expand Medicaid income eligibility under the ACA and close the coverage gap. The bill, HB662, directs the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) to create the Carolina Cares program, which would expand care to all individuals earning less than 133 percent FPL. By passing HB662, the North Carolina General Assembly could provide many parents with the insurance they need to access effective treatment and prevention services."

Medical Cannabis in North Carolina

One aspect that's missing from these solutions is the need to legalize medical cannabis in NC. In states where medical cannabis has been legalized, there are significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates. These states include California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Michigan, Vermont, and many others.

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Another study released earlier this year concluded that states with medical cannabis had 5.88 percent lower opioid prescription rates on Medicaid. The study continues on to include that “The potential of cannabis liberalization to reduce the use and consequences of prescription opioids among Medicaid enrollees deserves consideration during the policy discussions about cannabis reform and the opioid epidemic.”

It's time for North Carolina to follow suit and take deliberate, concrete action to solve this crisis and help those in need with swift action. Although there is no quick fix for the opioid solution, we have to look at all available resources and encourage those that make the most sense. I support House Bill 185 that would establish a statewide medical program.