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Data shows North Carolina opioid overdose death rate dropped
5% fall in 2018 is first in five years
 
Published Friday, September 6, 2019 11:23 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

FILE PHOTO
North Carolina opioid overdose deaths dropped 5% in 2018, the first slide in fatalities in five years.

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Opioid overdose fatalities in North Carolina have fallen for the first time in five years.


The number of unintentional opioid deaths declined by 5% in 2018, according to data collected by the state Department of Health and Human Services. In 2017, deaths increased 34 percent from the year before.


The figures are consistent with the decreasing number of emergency department visits for opioid-related overdoses, which declined nearly 10 percent from 2017 to 2018. The decrease reflects a preliminary estimate of 1,785 deaths in 2018 compared with 1,884 in 2017.


 “This is a major milestone for North Carolina but the figures show we have much more work to do to keep people healthy and alive," Gov. Roy Cooper said. "Medicaid expansion is the easiest and most effective step our state can take to continue our fight against this deadly disease."


Cooper signed the Opioid Epidemic Response Act into law in July, which removes the ban on use of state funds to purchase syringe exchange program supplies, decriminalizes the possession of fentanyl tests strips that allow people to test drugs for dangerous contaminants, and increases access to office-based opioid treatment.


While the numbers have declined for prescription opioids, the data captured as part of the state’s Opioid Action Plan continues to show that most deaths and emergency department visits continue to be due to illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.


 “Opioid overdose deaths and emergency department visits are two key metrics set forth in our Opioid Action Plan, and efforts to improve outcomes in those areas are clearly showing a positive impact,” said DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen M.D. “While this is a significant achievement, we know far too many North Carolina families are still suffering. We must continue to focus on prevention, reducing harm and connecting people to care.”


From 2017 to 2019, opioid dispensing decreased by 24%; prescriptions for drugs used to treat opioid use disorders increased by 15% percent, and opioid use disorder treatment for uninsured and Medicaid beneficiaries increased by 20%.


The DHHS launched an updated Opioid Action Plan 2.0  to fight the opioid crisis through cooperation among county health departments, law enforcement, counties and non-profits to identify impactful, feasible strategies to reduce overdoses, and increase access to treatment.


North Carolina’s DHHS has received over $75 million to date in federal funding for prevention and to increase treatment capacity across the state. Other efforts  include:


• An initiative to train medical residents, physician assistant, and nurse practitioners in providing office-based opioid treatment, reaching over 700 providers to date.


• DHHS and the Attorney General’s Office participated in the More Powerful NC public education campaign to raise awareness about the opioid overdose epidemic and empower North Carolinians to take action.


• The launch of a new medication-assisted treatment program pilot with the Department of Public Safety to reduce overdose-related deaths among people who are re-entering communities upon leaving prison.


• Funding to 34 communities to implement post-overdose response teams, employ certified peer support specialists, implement safer syringe programs and implement programs and services for justice-involved populations.


• Funded the NC Healthcare Association to implement an Emergency Department Peer Support Program to connect patients presenting with opioid overdose to treatment, recovery, and harm reduction supports, which has resulted in a decrease in emergency departments return visits and hospitalizations.

 

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