Overdose Epidemic Affecting North Carolina
About 2.1 million people in the United States abuse prescription opioid medications. The U.S. opioid epidemic has more than tripled the unintentional death by overdose rate in recent years. However, only an estimated 17 percent of deaths by overdose in 2010 were actual suicides, indicating that many individuals are accidentally overdosing on opioid painkillers and other opiate drugs.
Four of the top 20 cities that have measured opioid misuse are located in North Carolina. No area of North Carolina is immune to the severe growth of this health crisis, though mountainous regions tend to be more severely affected than flat urban areas. Opioid abuse is one of the most pervasive forms of drug abuse; other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol do not match the destructive potential of opioid medication addictions.
The Cause of the Opioid Crisis in North Carolina
Many of the victims of opioid addiction and overdose are actually medical patients seeking relief from genuine pain symptoms. Sometimes complications result when a patient does not understand the risks associated with the medications that he or she receives from a prescribing physician. In other situations, abuse is intentional but still motivated by a legitimate desire to get relief from pain, sometimes referred to as self-treating. Any use of prescription medications that is not specifically outlined by a qualifying doctor is classified as illegal abuse and is dangerous, though even the legal use of prescription opioids has the potential to lead to addiction.
Often, people who become addicted to opioid medicines eventually turn to heroin in order to avoid withdrawal or experience their next high since, pharmacologically speaking, prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin can have the same effects. The largest difference between the two merely lies in the purity of the substance and how carefully controlled and dosed it is.
Heroin addiction and opioid addiction can have the same consequences, regardless of where they start. Many people with opioid addictions report having stolen from friends and family members in order to buy drugs. Other negative consequences of opioid abuse can range from job loss to social isolation to overdose and death, regardless if a person abuses prescription opioids or illicit opioids.
Opioid Epidemic Defense in North Carolina
Law enforcement officials across the state of North Carolina are concerned, with one law enforcement representative remarking that the opioid is likely something that every county sheriff in the entire state has in mind. Law enforcement officials are benefiting from improved resources focused on preventing heroin trafficking, but there is often little that law enforcement can do regarding doctors’ prescribing practices.
Prescribing doctors in North Carolina are also facing increased scrutiny. In early March 2016, one county jury chose to indict two doctors for fraudulent and irresponsible handling of prescription opioids. A veterinarian was even caught with over 300 pills in his possession, having prescribed these medications to his own family pets.¹ In response to the opioid overdose epidemic, forensic pathologists have begun registering and tracking deaths that have been caused by an opioid overdose.
Some of the methods used to combat this opioid epidemic require doctors to renew licenses and complete supplemental training. For example, prescribing physicians may receive supplemental training if their opioid prescribing practices are not in line with current best practices.
When opioid medications were first introduced and started gaining popularity, doctors were among the most skeptical of pharmaceutical companies’ claims about the drugs’ safety, though today, the risks are often underestimated. In 2002, the North Carolina government created a task force was to investigate deaths related to opioid poisoning. This task force’s investigation eventually led to the decision to more closely monitor prescribing practices. Three years later in 2005, the CSRS, or Controlled Substances Reporting System, of North Carolina was created to monitor physicians’ prescribing practices.²
One of the most recent steps taken within the state is the use of Naloxone, an overdose reversal drug. The North Carolina State Harm Reduction Coalition has been one of the main promoters of this lifesaving antidote. In fact, the organization distributed over 20,000 emergency packets containing Naloxone doses across the state. To date, thousands of overdose fatalities have been prevented as a result of Naloxone use.
Of course, the best treatment for overdose is prevention. Opioid addiction is plaguing more and more individuals with each passing year. As drug makers, law enforcement, policy makers, and prescribers continue to fight this epidemic, individuals are wise to seek treatment of professionals who know how to help them steer clear of these addictions.
Wilmington Treatment Center has decades of experience treating women and men who have become trapped by dependence on prescription painkillers, heroin, morphine, and other opioids. For over 30 years, Wilmington Treatment Center has offered dedicated, medically-supervised detoxification services, personalized recovery treatment, and comprehensive counseling and family assistance. By treating both addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders, Wilmington Treatment Center is able to help each individual person as a whole and is playing a role in stemming the tide of the opioid abuse epidemic one life at a time.
- WIVB Channel 4 News. “Owners of North Carolina animal hospital charged with trafficking opium, heroin.” Found online 5/9/16 at: http://wivb.com/2016/02/10/owners-of-north-carolina-animal-hospital-charged-with-trafficking-opium-heroin/.
- Northern Carolina Public Health Department. “North Carolina’s Response to the Medication and Drug Overdose Epidemic: 2000 to 2015. Summary of Key Milestones and Prevention Strategies.” Found online 5/9/16 at: http://www.ncleg.net/documentsites/committees/JLOCHHS/Handouts%20and%20Minutes%20by%20Interim/2015-16%20Interim%20HHS%20Handouts/April%2012,%202016/IVc.HANDOUT_HHS_Drug%20OD-Poster_2016-04-12-AM.pdf.