NC sees 22 percent increase in drug overdose deaths, CDC report shows

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A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a 22 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in North Carolina last year, with Nebraska being the only state to show a larger increase.

“We’re in a crisis. And, we have been seeing an increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths over the last decade now,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, section chief for the Chronic Disease and Injury Section of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

The CDC report, which is based on preliminary data, shows 2,515 people died of drug overdoses in 2017.

That’s up from 2,053 the previous year.

Nationally, the CDC says there were more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths.

This comes as the nation confronts the opioid epidemic and the increased use of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that’s contributing to the rise in drug overdose deaths.

Wilson resident Mike Cannon lost his son, Jonathan, following a heroin overdose in August 2015.

“We’re losing the battle. We’re losing every day,” he said. “We need more detoxes. We need more facilities.”

Cannon’s family started a non-profit organization aimed at helping people find treatment and to help families impacted by the epidemic.

He’s also launching another group called Roar, which aims to shape public policy.

“When you talk to (lawmakers), they’re like, ‘Yeah, we have a problem. We need to fix it.’ Where they differ is on how we’re gonna pay for it,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever see this disappear in my lifetime. I wish I would. But, I’m gonna do everything I can to make an impact.”

He noted the challenges people face in rural counties with fewer resources.

“I have about five counties that are all connected, and we don’t have a detox or rehab in any of those counties,” he said.

Justin Garrity, who works full-time at Healing Transitions in Raleigh, sought help a few years ago.

“I’m an opioid addict myself and had a few friends pass away from this disease,” he said.

He now administers the agency’s Rapid Responder program. After emergency responders help someone who’s experienced an overdose, he arranges for people to meet with them to help them find resources for treatment.

“We don’t want to sit idly by and wait for them to come to us. So, we’re going to go out to them,” he said.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed the STOP Act last year, which was aimed at reducing the supply of opioids. Among its provisions, it limited the number of days opioids could be prescribed following acute injuries. It does not limit prescriptions for people dealing with chronic pain. It requires prescribers to review a patient’s prescription history.

This year, lawmakers followed that up with the HOPE Act. It has a controversial provision, which gives law enforcement access to the Controlled Substance Reporting System. The system helps the state “identify people who abuse and misuse prescription drugs classified as Schedule II-V controlled substances,” it reads on the system’s website. The law also provides additional funding for community-based treatment and naloxone, which can be used to reverse the effects of an overdose.

Dr. Kansagra pointed out the state has developed an action plan.

She noted it still could be years before the trend of increased opioid-related deaths changes.

“We know we need to do more. We’re seeking $25 million in federal funding to help increase the access to treatment in our state,” she said.

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