By David Larson
Attorney General Josh Stein announced that North Carolina would be receiving another $1 billion from opioid settlements, this time from Walgreens and CVS. This is in addition to the $3.1 billion settlement with Walmart and the $26 billion ($750 million of which is coming to N.C.) from major pharmaceutical companies. All of these settlements involve state attorneys general seeking to hold corporations responsible for their role in the opioid crisis.
With this kind of money coming in, some real good can be done for those affected by the evil of addiction — if the money is spent efficiently and fairly. But an unnecessary focus on racial equity in North Carolina’s opioid plan is likely to divert money away from where it will do the most good.
On the Attorney General’s “NC Opioid Settlements” website, it states near the top that “These funds will be used to support treatment, recovery, harm reduction, and other life-saving programs and services in communities throughout the state. North Carolina’s Opioid and Substance Use Action Plan (OSUAP) lays out concrete strategies to advance prevention, reduce harm, and connect people to the care that they need.”
Much of the original settlement money (about 85%) will be spent by local governments, with the other 15% spent by the state. And the state’s OSUAP plan is obviously important to how the money will be spent or it wouldn’t be listed at the top of the settlement site. Other later settlements will likely have similar splits, with both state and local governments spending portions of the money.
So, what is the NC Opioid and Substance Use Action Plan ? The site gives a link to the plan, which is laid out in detail by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. One thing becomes immediately clear as you read through the plan; equity appears like at least as big of a priority as helping those affected by opioid addiction.
The OSUAP 3.0 begins by saying it updates the 2019 2.0 version by now including “a broadened focus on polysubstance use as well as centering equity and lived experience.”
The very next page is titled, you guessed it, “Equity.” The page does admit that opioids are having the biggest impact on the Native American and white communities, the only two groups that are disproportionately impacted. Black residents are impacted by opioids at about their proportion of the state’s population, and Asians and Hispanics are much less likely to be faced with opioid addiction and overdose than their share of the population.
With this in mind, if equity were really about disparate impact, one would expect the OSUAP to then lay out programs to specifically target Native American and white residents. But instead, the OSUAP says “Communities of color have been systematically marginalized through decades of criminalized response to substance use,” so the plan will work with groups that fight to reverse this. A majority of counties, according to the OSUAP, report that their opioid plans now involve community-based organizations (CBOs) for historically marginalized populations (HMP). These HMP CBOs are government acronym-speak for non-profits focusing on specific non-white racial groups.
But take a look at the chart below showing white residents disproportionately overdosing and dying from fentanyl in North Carolina. With 62% of the population and 70% of the deaths, this is not an areas where white residents are “privileged” and need to be sidelined for resources in order to fix historic imbalances. If there were historic imbalances in drug deaths that favored whites, they have more than evened out.
The settlement money should be used to prevent more families from losing loved ones, not for left-wing bureaucrats to fight for their vision of social justice in ways that have nothing to do with pharmaceutical companies irresponsibly pushing pain pills. It’s insulting to all the parents fighting for their children’s lives to suggest that their child is not “centered” in the plan just because their skin is the wrong color. As someone who has lost both close friends and family to this crisis, it’s more than aggravating.
All laws should be based on the dignity of the individual human person, including people that are part of unfavored groups in society. This is a lesson all society’s struggle to learn in a permanent way, no matter how many times they’ve been forced to face it in the past.
In the United States, we’ve certainly marginalized certain groups and this has caused disparities, some that last to today. I am very sympathetic to this and think conservatives can often downplay the problems caused by past government-enforced discrimination. But this does not mean we need to see every area of life through this lens, especially in areas where the data is showing the opposite pattern.
It’s also not the role of the government to view society as a battle among groups where they need to even out the scoreboard for cosmic justice. The Constitution requires public officials and programs to provide equality under the law. Equity, by definition, violates this obligation and has no place in the opioid response. The money should be spent directly helping people, no matter their race, to overcome opioid addiction and live a healthy life.