Gov. Pat McCrory appeared Thursday, along with North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Rick Brajer and several members of the Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse in a Fayetteville drug treatment court, to present a report documenting recommendations on mental health and substance abuse in youth and adults.
The report calls for a diversion from the criminal justice system to treatment and housing for those with substance abuse and mental health issues, more access to opioid and prescription drug addiction treatment and an increase in case management.
The report also calls for $30 million in recurring funds to put these initiatives in place. McCrory has included this sum in his proposed budget to address the issues as recommended by the task force.
“Those people who are going through addiction and mental health problems, we need to do everything we can to encourage them,” McCrory said.
Admitting that the drug war has failed, which he did implicitly, saying, “We’re just locking them up, and we’re finding that doesn’t work,” is all well and good.
Looking for options for treatment over incarceration is a step in the right direction that is long overdue in this country. But let us not forget that an usually high percentage of “those people” of whom McCrory speaks are members of minority communities that HB2 explicitly discriminates against.
There is a body of scientific evidence showing that discrimination has a negative impact on one’s mental health. We also know that drug abuse and mental illness are often comorbid – a fancy way of saying they occur together in the same person. The evidence supports the logical assumption that the more you feel you have to escape from, the more likely you are to try to escape from it.
The discriminatory bill HB2 that McCrory signed into law not only goes after transgender people, telling them to use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with what is on their birth certificate, it also goes after the rest of the LGBT community in permitting discrimination in private businesses.
It doesn’t stop there, preventing anyone from suing in state courts if they feel they are the victim of discrimination in employment, taking away protections that had been in place on the basis of gender, race, age, religion and disability.
The LGBT community has a higher suicide rate than the general population, and it is especially high among transgender people. Studies have shown that both personal and institutional discrimination, such as is the case with HB2, can lead to increased mental health disorders.
The LGBT community also has higher rates of substance use than the general population.
The portion of HB2 which prevents cities from increasing their minimum wage will only contribute to the poverty minority groups, who are more likely to work low wage jobs, are experiencing, further exacerbating any preexisting health issues, mental or otherwise.
If McCrory is serious about battling the mental health and substance abuse crisis in this country, he first needs to stop doing active harm by repealing HB2. Since we will likely have to wait until the dueling lawsuits between the state and the federal government over the bill determines once and for all its constitutionality, we are left watching our governor again speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
“It’s time to say we haven’t been doing it right in this country, in this state, and we’re going to try something new,” McCrory said in response to the report.
If only his mind could be so open when it comes to rethinking the discriminatory bill he signed into law.