RALEIGH — New released data shows a 73 percent increase in opioid-related deaths in the state from 2005-15.


The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data shows 1,100 people died from opioids in 2015, compared to 642 in 2005.


Locally, Randolph County saw the highest increase in deaths among surrounding similar counties during that time span, from eight in 2005 to 30 deaths in 2015 — a 275 percent increase. Moore was next with a 175 percent increase, with 4 and 11 deaths respectively, followed by Davidson, with an 18.75 rise, 16 and nine deaths respectively. In contrast, Chatham and Montgomery had no increase, with Chatham reporting one death each in those years and Montgomery three each.


Gov. Roy Cooper on May 15, when the data was released, said opioid deaths “will require a new level of collaboration between law enforcement, treatment-providers, and those in recovery.”


Cooper’s proposed budget will provide up to $14 million to fight opioid addiction. Cooper recently joined a national bipartisan commission to address the crisis.


Emissions tests


Only 22 of North Carolina’s 100 counties — Randolph and Davidson County among them — still have to conduct vehicle emission testing, according to state environmental officials.


Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed a law that reduced the number of counties that need to conduct the emissions test, from 48 to 22, allowing about 2 million residents to discontinue the tests on their vehicles.


Gov. Roy Cooper signed legislation this month, removing 26 counties from the testing list. Chatham and Moore residents will no longer have to obtain the testing.


All drivers are still required to pay the statewide annual safety inspection on their vehicles. However, some advocates say cutting the number of counties that have to conduct the emissions testing will cause air pollution to increase.


‘Raise the Age’


A “Raise The Age” bill to take some teenagers out of the adult court system passed the N.C. House Wednesday in a 104-8 vote.


House Bill 280 would allow a 16- or 17-year-old who commits certain crimes to be tried as a juvenile — not as an adult. North Carolina is the only remaining state that automatically prosecutes people as young as 16 as adults. Violent felonies and some drug offenses would still be handled in adult court.


Similar bills have passed the House in previous years, but this year’s effort has backing from law enforcement and N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin. After Wednesday’s House vote, the bill goes to the Senate, where Republican leaders have included similar legislation in the budget bill passed last week.


“This bill is supported by a broad coalition of groups, including some groups that have in the past opposed the legislation,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville. “You don’t often see the ACLU and the (conservative) John Locke Foundation join together. Raising the age will make North Carolina safer.”


Eight Republicans voted against the bill, and some said they were concerned about the extra costs of putting teens in the juvenile justice system.


“I still do not have an answer for where the funding is coming from,” said Rep. Beverly Boswell, a Dare County Republican who ultimately voted for the bill. “Why are we going to pass a bill if we can’t complete our task?”


An estimate from the nonpartisan legislative staff found that the bill will cost $25.3 million in the first year, with the cost increasing to $44.3 million in 2020. The funding would be needed to hire additional prosecutors and add space in juvenile correctional facilities.


Much of Wednesday’s House debate centered on the types of crimes that would be moved to juvenile court.


Budget backlash


As the dust settled on the Senate’s state budget, passed just after 3 a.m. on May 12, certain funding provisions have been called into question — including an additional $1 million for opioid treatment. The funds, introduced in an amendment from Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, came from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought.


The amendment also changes the counties included in a program that offers stipends to teacher assistants who are working on a college degree to get their teaching licenses.


Other items cut in the late-night amendment include:


* $200,000 to bring fresh produce to food deserts.


* $250,000 to fund additional staff for the N.C. Museum of Art’s recently expanded art park.


* $550,000 for a downtown revitalization program. The only remaining funding for the downtown program is directed to Robeson County, which has a Republican senator.


Food stamps


An estimated 133,000 people in North Carolina would lose access to government food assistance programs under a provision tucked into the Senate budget approved last week. The provision changes the state’s eligibility requirements for the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — commonly known as food stamps.


The change wouldn’t save the state any money because funding comes from the federal government. Currently, people can qualify if they receive other government assistance benefits, such as disability payments — even if their income level is higher than the maximum income for food assistance.


Known as “broad-based categorical eligibility,” the same policy is used by 38 other states.


Beer fight


Hoping to win in court what they lost in the General Assembly, two Charlotte craft brewers sued the state of North Carolina on May 15, arguing that state laws that limit their production are unconstitutional.


Olde Mecklenburg and NoDa breweries claim the state’s annual production cap and franchise law stifle competition, “thereby harming consumers by artificially inflating prices and reducing consumer choice,” according to documents filed in Wake County Superior Court.


The case pits North Carolina’s fast-growing craft beer industry against a distribution system that has roots in the Prohibition era. Former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, who represents the brewers, called it “one of most significant economic liberty cases we’ve seen in the state in a long time.”


Recovery funding


Gov. Roy Cooper met with North Carolina’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to pursue additional Hurricane Matthew recovery funding from Congress and the Trump administration. Last week, it was announced North Carolina would receive only $6.1 million of the nearly $900 million in federal recovery funds.


“I think we all share disappointment that the disaster relief hasn’t been greater thus far, but we all share determination to make sure North Carolina gets additional significant help,” Cooper said. “I think the local delegation has worked hard on this, but the House and Senate leadership, as well as the president, haven’t done what they need to do.”


The governor said he hopes additional appropriations will be sent to North Carolina’s disaster relief efforts in September.