RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper declared today Overdose Awareness Day in North Carolina. Overdose Awareness Day is about remembering those whose lives have been lost to overdose, honoring family and community grief, and renewing our commitment to ending the overdose crisis in North Carolina. This day also recognizes state, county and community partners as they continue to work together to reduce stigma associated with substance use and increase access to support and services so people can get the help they need to recover.
“On this day, we remember those we have lost far too soon to overdoses, as well as their friends, families and communities,” said Cooper. “We will continue to build on our meaningful investments to fight this crisis, including more health insurance with Medicaid Expansion, significant investment in mental health and substance use disorder prevention and treatment and working to get illegal opioids and fentanyl off of our streets.”
Tragically, 1.2 million people have a substance use disorder, and 11 people die every day from an overdose in North Carolina. From 1999 to 2021, more than 33,000 North Carolinians died from drug overdose deaths. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this crisis, with overdose deaths increasing 72% since 2019. In 2021 alone, overdose deaths increased 22%, with 4,041 North Carolinians losing their lives to overdose. This is the highest number of overdose deaths in a single year on record in the state.
To help address this concerning trend, Governor Cooper signed House Bill 190 into law on June 29, 2023. This new law allows for the creation of mobile opioid treatment programs, which will bring high quality, evidence-based and life-saving treatment to underserved populations throughout the state. This is especially important for reaching rural areas disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic.
“Although we are in the midst of a behavioral health crisis, we are also in a moment of historic opportunity,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Expanding Medicaid means increasing access to care, advancing harm-reduction strategies and treatments, and ultimately, saving lives.”
In North Carolina, the rates of overdose are increasing fastest among Black, Indigenous and people of color, as well as individuals who are involved in the justice system. From 2019 to 2021, there was a 139% increase in Black/African American overdose rates; and in 2021, American Indian/Indigenous communities had the highest overdose rate at 94.1 deaths per 100,000. And individuals discharged from a correctional setting are 50 times more likely to die from an overdose during their first two weeks post-release than the general population.
“We are committed to advancing behavioral health equity for all North Carolinians,” said Kelly Crosbie, MSW, LCSW, director of the NCDHHS Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Use Services. “That means raising awareness and eliminating the stigma surrounding substance use as well as investing in evidence-based mental health and substance use services when and where people need them, while ensuring everyone has access to them.”
NCDHHS has outlined its commitment and approach to addressing overdose in the Opioid and Substance Use Action Plan. Using the Opioid and Substance Use data dashboard, NCDHHS can track progress towards reaching goals outlined in the OSUAP.
Below are key accomplishments North Carolina has achieved towards implementing the OSUAP:
- Since 2020, NCDHHS distributed more than 719,000 doses of naloxone, the life-saving overdose reversal medication.
- There are 52 registered syringe services programs operating across North Carolina that provide overdose prevention education, distribute naloxone and connect people at risk of an overdose to care and treatment.
- More than 30,000 individuals receive medications for opioid use disorder from one of the 83 opioid treatment programs in North Carolina.
- Since 2000, 23 community-led pre- and post-arrest diversion programs and 29 jail re-entry programs for substance use disorder have been created or expanded. Currently, 39 jails across the state offer medications for opioid use disorder.
NCDHHS is committed to turning the tide of the overdose crisis. Support is available across the state for people and families struggling with substance use and who might be at risk of an overdose. Naloxone, the overdose reversal medication, is available at pharmacies, local health departments and syringe services programs. You can find more information about naloxone and where to access it at naloxonesaves.org. Additionally, the suicide and crisis lifeline, 988 is available to anyone, anytime. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org.