Republicans and Democrats work together to curb drug problem
Partisan politics can sometimes get in the way of working collaboratively for the best interest of state residents.
That is not the case, however, with N. C. Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, and N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, a Republican representing Western North Carolina, who are working together to introduce two bills to curb the state’s opioid epidemic. Both have helped build a coalition between liberal and conservative members of the house and senate to get the bills passed.
The first bill introduced in the General Assembly was the STOP Act, which will provide a database that all prescribers will have to use when giving patients prescription opiates. This will allow authorities to know who has prescribed what to whom and when.
“The STOP act prevents people from getting addicted in the first place, and will increase funding for treatment,” Stein said.
After that, just last week, the Synthetic Opioid Control Act was introduced. This bill will outlaw opioid analogs, which are often shipped over from China in bulk and distributed by street-level dealers.
These substances have only a slightly different chemical makeup from pharmaceutical drugs and produce a similar effect. Lawmakers believe this legislation will begin saving lives as soon as it is enacted.
“Synthetic Fentanyl was responsible for 77 deaths in North Carolina last year,” Stein noted.
Davis, who is the primary sponsor of the STOP Act, said there are so many new analogs created all the time that it would be impossible to keep up with them all by outlawing substances one-at-a-time.
“If we were passing one bill for every substance, there would be a new bill every day,” Davis said. “They have some pretty bright chemists involved in their operations.”
Stein, who served about six years alongside Davis in the senate before he was elected attorney general, said that these bills are a crucial step in finally getting on top of the epidemic.
“Both bills are essential elements of the comprehensive strategy of North Carolina to try to get a hold of this problem and save lives,” he said.
Although Davis has done much of legwork to introduce these bills in the senate, it was Stein who first reached out to him to work together.
“He called me at home and knowing I had been interested in this issue for some time to combine efforts to address this issue,” Davis said.
“I asked if he wanted to work with me and he didn’t hesitate,” Stein said.
Although Stein and Davis have both put in a serious effort on the bills, they credit Stein’s policy counsel, Steve Mange, for being the work horse that made them a reality.
“He’s done a great job helping me coordinate with law makers and law enforcement,” Stein said.
And now that the bills have been introduced, Davis said it has garnered sound support from both sides of the aisle.
“This problem is so important that people are determined to do something, and they don’t want to stand in front of the train,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s ever been a house bill with so much bipartisan backing.”
In addition to Davis, whose district includes Haywood County, Stein said other officials in the area specifically have played integral roles in the fight against opioids, including Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed, who provided some valuable law enforcement insight.
“Chief Hollingsed has been a great ally and an innovator in response to this crisis,” he said.
He added that Haywood County — and Waynesville, in particular — is lucky to have so many innovative thinkers.
“There are communities all over Western North Carolina that are developing creative solutions,” he said. “And Waynesville is definitely one of these.”
As for the future, Davis said he realizes there is still much more work to be done to stay on top of this issue — an issue which seems to present new hurdles as soon as legislation is passed.
“We all realize this is a giant first step,” he said. “But it’s not the last step.”
But as long as local and state officials can find common ground, there is always hope.
“We do live in partisan times, but there are certain issues we can set party labels to the side, and the opioid crisis is definitely one of those,” Stein said. “It is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It is a people issue.”