North Carolina editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Nov. 22, 2017
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
Asheville Citizen-Times on the opioid crisis:
We're not sure how much good it will do to sue the pharmaceutical industry, but the opioid crisis has become so severe that we must try.
Buncombe County has filed a federal lawsuit naming 23 firms, including five of the largest manufacturers of prescription opioids, the three largest wholesale drug distributors in the U.S., and their related companies. No specific amount of damages is asked.
The lawsuit claims the distributors and manufacturers engaged in "false, deceptive and unfair marketing and/or unlawful diversion of prescription opioids.
"We cannot afford in Buncombe County, or in the country anymore, to just stand back and let this happen," Commissioner Al Whitesides said. "We gotta speak up. Because we are speaking up and fighting for a lot of people."
"These drugs are brought in here under false pretenses and they're robbing us of citizens," said Commissioner Ellen Frost. They're robbing us of resources but more importantly, they're robbing us of citizens — the babies that are in foster care, the paramedics that have to go out for things that they typically would never have to encounter.
"So, I embrace this fight."
Opioids have important legitimate uses as pain-killers, but they are being misused widely with catastrophic results. Opioids were responsible for more than 33,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year's toll in Buncombe County alone was 42.
And the trend is upward. Buncombe saw more than 200 opioid overdoses in the first eight months of 2017, according to state data. That's more than twice the number of cases reported for the same period in 2016.
So why sue those who manufacture and distribute opioids? It comes back to Frost's remark about "false pretenses". These drugs supposedly are available for legitimate use in fighting pain, but the industry is producing far more than can possibly be used legally.
A lot of the opioids being abused were obtained through legitimate prescriptions. In 20 percent of U.S. counties, the number of opioid prescriptions increased by more than 10 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to CDC data
We need to do a better job of policing providers who overprescribe opioids. But that still does not let the industry off the hook. The companies have to know the quantities they provide, even though they are under federal controls, are excessive.
The suit may or may not produce any money. If it does, that money should be used for treatment of addicts. Effective treatment is the only long-term solution. As much as we stress the importance of not using drugs, there are those who will not pay attention.
Programs such as the pretrial intervention being pushed by Buncombe Sheriff Van Duncan and District Attorney Todd Williams offer some of our best hope. Incarceration doesn't help cure addiction, whether that addiction be to alcohol or opioids.
Under pretrial intervention, someone accused of a crime involving opioids gets an opportunity to maintain a clean record providing certain conditions are met. In this case, one of the conditions obviously would be to stay off drugs.
The opioid crisis is real, and it's not going to go away. Yes, we need to enforce the laws. And yes, some people need to be locked away. But for most, treatment is better than incarceration, and that treatment must not be limited to crisis intervention. It must be continuing At the same time, we must hold responsible those physicians who prescribe too freely, those pharmacists who fill questionable prescriptions, and those manufacturers who turn out far too many pills than are needed for legitimate pain control.
The Fayetteville Observer on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients:
Local activists are rightly keeping the dream alive and in the public spotlight.
About 100 of them, students and city residents, demonstrated at Wake Forest University recently to demand that Congress pass a "clean" Dream Act that would provide citizenship for DACA participants, the Journal's John Hinton reported. Outside WFU's Wait Chapel, they held signs and chanted to draw attention to this issue, which has been left in limbo by President Trump's decision in September to end DACA and leave it in the hands of Congress to resolve legislatively.
"We have been fighting for humane immigration reform," Maria Cortez-Perez, a WFU sophomore and DACA recipient, told the demonstrators.
At the same time, college students were visiting the Washington offices of congressional members, including U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr as well as U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, demanding that the legislators vote for a Dream Act, the Journal reported.
Nearly two dozen House Republicans have pressed Speaker Paul Ryan to act quickly on legislation to protect the DACA participants, the Journal reported.
These efforts are well-organized, highly motivated and heartfelt.
Tillis introduced the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending the country (SUCCEED) Act in September. It's not perfect, but it's a start.
DACA — "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" — allowed the "Dreamers," who were brought to the U.S. when they were young and had no choice in the matter, to register with the government and remain here while contributing significantly to our society, either by working, attending college or serving in the military. They've all been thoroughly vetted and keep their noses out of trouble. There are an estimated 800,000 such young people, about 27,000 in North Carolina.
It serves no purpose to remove these fine young people. They contribute to the economy, to our tax base and to putting America at the forefront in terms of technology and so many other fields.
We hope that keeping the issue in the public and legislative eye will finally, after long years, lead to a solution that will benefit the DACA recipients and the rest of us.
News & Record of Greensboro on the state taking action to protect a river:
For ages, a river made the perfect dump. Its current would simply carry unwanted waste away. If it ended up in the ocean, well, no problem. If people drank tainted water downstream, it probably wouldn't hurt them — at least if it were diluted enough. Or, if someone did get sick, probably no one would ever know where the poison came from.
Are those days over yet?
Not quite. And we may still be feeling some of the effects from the bad old days.
In September, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality filed a lawsuit alleging that the Chemours Co. plant in Fayetteville for years discharged a compound called GenX into the Cape Fear River without proper permits. Last week, it cited Chemours for an undisclosed spill that occurred in October. Later in the week, it moved to revoke the company's permit to release any wastewater into the river.
These actions follow months of concern about the impact of this substance on drinking water in the Wilmington area. GenX was first discovered in the Cape Fear a year ago, and researchers are still trying to learn about its extent and possible health effects.
Political wrangling has been part of the story, too. Republican legislators say the administration of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has been too slow to react. Cooper complains that the legislature has cut funding for water-quality agencies. The legislature denied Cooper's request for additional resources to address GenX, instead appropriating a small amount of money to UNC-Wilmington and Wilmington-area water utilities to study the problem.
A better effort is needed by all. But DEQ has been aggressive since it filed its legal complaint in September alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act and state groundwater rules. Specifically, it said Chemours discharged wastewater under a permit that didn't cover GenX.
Yet, GenX is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an "emerging contaminant" and isn't regulated. No safety standard has been established for it.
The EPA should address this gap, and the state should set its own limits — if scientific studies point to a possible human health threat. Chemours agreed to stop discharging the chemical, which is used in a manufacturing process that produces non-stick surfaces. But Chemours also criticized the state for unwarranted actions unsupported by science.
"We remain committed to operating this facility, which employs hundreds of North Carolina residents, in accordance with all applicable laws and in a manner that respects the environment and public health and safety," the company said in a statement Friday.
The scientific basis for regulatory action is yet to be established. On the other hand, chemicals can't be assumed to be safe until they're proven to be dangerous. There's a wide gray area sometimes between what's lawful and what's safe.
In regard to GenX, a state fact sheet says: "Laboratory studies on animals show negative effects to the liver and blood, along with cancer of the liver, pancreas, and testicles. The relevance to human health is unknown."
"Unknown" doesn't mean "nothing to worry about." It means the right approach to regulation should be caution. Companies shouldn't get a free pass to discharge chemicals into a river without informing regulators. They should be willing to work with regulators to minimize or eliminate the presence of particular chemicals of concern, rather than wait until a hazard is confirmed after years of testing and studies. They should assume liability for damages.
DEQ contends Chemours released GenX into the Cape Fear River after it pledged it would stop. That's serious. Whether it results in a revocation of the company's wastewater discharge permit should depend on better cooperation in the future.
The time when rivers were treated as convenient waste disposal systems must end. Dangerous chemicals don't just disappear downstream.