There’s a colloquialism in my native Kentucky that rejoins a stupid question with another question: Does a bear — I’ll substitute the polite word defecate — in the woods?
For the past three years, actions taken by our state government that actively harm citizens rather than ameliorate pain, create new problems rather than present solutions to preexisting ones and, generally, arise from meanness and fear have become so constant and unending as to be the equivalent of a bear defecating in the woods. The main difference is that bears doing their business in their natural habitat is a harmless phenomenon while the actions of the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory have a real and adverse impact on the good people of this state.
This list is by no means comprehensive or ranked in order of significance, but some of the most onerous action taken by the state includes reducing unemployment benefits, making voting more difficult, allowing magistrates to opt out of officiating same-sex marriages, nullifying local ordinances to protect LGBT rights while preventing transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice and restructuring the city of Greensboro’s election system over the wishes of its citizens.
Meanwhile, the state has privatized Medicaid while turning away federal dollars and refusing to expand the system to provide coverage for those who don’t earn enough to afford coverage under Obamacare. And the General Assembly is doubling down on a mean-spirited and wrongheaded policy that prohibits municipal governments from accepting photo IDs used by undocumented immigrants by closing a loophole to also ban their use by law enforcement. Consequently, the police will be forced to arrest undocumented people who have lived in this state for years simply because they are unable to identify themselves if they’re pulled over for a routine traffic violation while driving to work.
So when state government does something that is smart and helpful, something that addresses a problem rather than creates one, it’s like a bear doing cartwheels. It stands out for its novelty, and is all the more praiseworthy because it presents a rare opportunity for positive reinforcement.
Gov. McCrory’s appearance in Greensboro on Monday to sign bipartisan legislation increasing the availability of naloxone — a medication that reverses heroin and other opioid overdoses — is an example of wise and forward-thinking public policy. As with the poorly-conceived law to prevent municipal governments from accepting alternative IDs, McCrory chose the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office run by his friend BJ Barnes as the setting to sign the naloxone bill. With the ID bill, choosing Greensboro came across as a vindictive slap at the city, while it’s a fitting location for signing the naloxone bill into law in all the best ways.
Unlike Barnes’ ham-handed defense of the ID law, which amounts to harassing undocumented people, the sheriff deserves commendation for stepping up to help save addicts’ lives. Since Gov. McCrory signed the Good Samaritan Law in 2013, clearing the way for law enforcement to carry naloxone, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office has administered more than 600 doses of the drug, according to the governor’s office. A strong network of law enforcement, emergency responders and advocates in Guilford County generally deserves the credit reversing ODs before it’s too late. From Aug. 1, 2013 through June 11, 2016, the NC Harm Reduction Coalition reports 464 OD reversals in Greensboro and 259 in High Point. That’s compared to only 70 in Charlotte, 52 in Raleigh, 76 in Durham and 103 in Winston-Salem. Incidentally, Wilmington and Asheville top the list with 815 and 657, respectively.
The bill McCrory signed on Monday allows pharmacies across the state to make naloxone available without a prescription by issuing a standing prescription order — an arrangement in place in only two other states. The new law fulfills a goal of the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use to make naloxone widely available, especially to the family and friends of opioid users.
The new law builds on the sound policy of the 2013 Good Samaritan Law, which made naloxone available to law enforcement officers, while also providing limited immunity to prosecution to drug users who get help for friends who are overdosing.
“Why do we not charge someone who reports an overdose?” asked Assistant District Attorney Jordan Green during a recent community meeting in High Point. “People are valuable to our society and we don’t want them to die. If you have someone overdose after shooting heroin in their basement with a friend, we don’t charge the guy who called. We don’t charge the guy who overdosed. Now, if you’re just hanging around using drugs and you don’t do anything to help, that’s another story.”
The next step should be legalizing clean needle exchanges to decrease the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C. Lead the way, Governor.