RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The U.S. had more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in a year for the first time ever, according to the CDC. The deaths occurred between April 2020 and April 2021.
According to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 2019 to 2020 saw the biggest year-to-year increase in drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people in the past 20 years. The 2021 numbers are not posted yet.
As drug overdose deaths rise in North Carolina and the country, so are the number of people seeking help at Healing Transitions, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Raleigh.
Chirs Budnick is the Executive Director of Healing Transitions. He said the demand for their services has steadily increased over the past five years.
“COVID did nothing to help with reversing or changing that trend,” Budnick said.
He pointed to stress, isolation, and a lack of access to in-person recovery during the pandemic as leading to higher numbers. The center had to reduce its capacity under COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s been incredibly challenging for staff to operate under these conditions of not being able to help everybody who’s seeking help, and also to have to navigate how we bring people in a triaged way that includes quarantine periods before they get kind of involved in the full program,” Budnick said.
The number of people Healing Transitions works with who overdosed went from 331 in 2019, to 429 in 2020, and is currently at 476 in 2021, according to Budnick. He said they received 11 percent more patient referrals from Wake EMS this year than in 2020, and 44 percent more referrals than in 2019.
Budnick said an uptick in fentanyl in non-opioid drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine has also made the job tougher.
Courtni Wright is the rapid responder team lead on the post-overdose response team at Healing Transitions, sharing her own story with the people she works to help.
“I tell them I’m just like them,” Wright said. “I was them. I was the person addicted to opioids who could not live a day without getting high, and so that is how I make that connection. I just am 100 percent honest with them and let them know I’m here for them no matter what.”
She said work has been non-stop since June or July of 2020.
“What I found is that I am saving lives,” she said. “By giving the individual Narcan, giving them harm reduction supplies, by feeding them that day, I have helped save their life, if only for another night.”
Healing Transitions is expanding, increasing its designated capacity at the men’s facility from 165 to 290 and from 88 to 210 at the women’s facility. Budnick said construction should finish around early 2023 at the men’s facility and late 2022 at the women’s facility.