PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) — The National Governors Association began their biannual meeting Thursday with a panel discussion on the national opioid epidemic.
“We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think health care influences this,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told the room of the issue that is claiming 91 lives a day.
“We cannot have millions of Americans lose health care coverage and still be successful in fighting opioid addition,” Cooper said, tying the addiction crisis into another pressing issue at the forefront of contemporary politics. He said health care coverage is “vitally important” for people afflicted by the disease of addiction.
Cooper was joined on the panel by Govs. Gina Raimondo, D-R.I., and Charlie Baker, R-Mass., all of whom were among the 46 governors that signed the National Governors Association compact created at last summer’s meeting “to spur coordinated action” on the national issue.
The three governors emphasized that in addition to treatment, the stigma of addiction must be reduced so it can be seen as a health and science issue, not just a criminal matter.
“One thing we know at the addiction level, and law enforcement will tell you this, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Cooper said. “Opioid abuse is a chronic disease, with different manifestations, but it’s not different from diabetes or heart disease. You don’t treat those conditions with a one-time interaction.”
The panel was moderated by Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Richard Baum, who called the problem “too big and too complex for any level of government to solve on its own.”
Raimondo agreed, and focused on the extensive involvement required from society.
“This is an everybody issue,” she said. “This problem is pervasive, yet still relatively not understood by the average person, and requires an unprecedented level of collaboration to address it. This is an issue that requires [the involvement of] law enforcement, schools, doctors, hospitals, corporations, but no one really feels like it’s their problem to solve, which means it’s our problem to solve.”
Cooper rallied the governors together, saying, “As states, we can do things quicker.”
He and Baker advocated for education and awareness, saying at least half of the deaths from opioid use stem from prescription use.
The group agreed that “modest” improvement in tackling the issue has begun — but only begun.
“It’s pretty important for everyone to stay with it,” Baker said. “This one is going to require continued vigilance, continued inquiry and continued investment.”
Vice President Mike Pence and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were to speak Friday at a special session on global economy, and Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology employment, will hold an all-day showcase on how computer coding can be used to solve policy problems.