As we move into the third year of the pandemic, the United States has seen devastating, lasting effects. Millions of people have died from COVID-19 worldwide and in the US our death toll is reaching one million. The loss of life is heartbreaking, and countless others have suffered from the strain the pandemic has put on our daily lives.
Unfortunately, the pandemic may have contributed to a loss of life unrelated to COVID-19 infections; in 2020, the United States has seen upwards of 100,000 people die from an overdose.
It’s no secret that the United States has been, and still is, in the midst of an opioid epidemic, and North Carolina has not been spared. The data from 2020 shows a 40% increase from 2019 in overdose deaths in North Carolina; roughly 9 people died every single day in 2020 from an overdose.
In 2019, the number of drug overdose deaths in North Carolina was 2,352. In 2020, that number increased to 3,304. There were also nearly 15,000 emergency department visits related to drug overdoses in 2020, and the provisional surveillance data suggests that this increase continued through into 2021.
It is also vital to remember that overdose deaths disproportionately affect historically marginalized populations. According to WECT, “while the overall number of overdose deaths is still highest among non-Hispanic white people, when measured as a proportion of population, American Indian/Indigenous people have the highest rate and the highest increase in deaths due to overdose.”
NCDHHS officials say the 2020 increases may in part be attributed to pandemic-related increases in alcohol consumption and substance use, and more U.S. adults reported anxiety or depression symptoms and seriously considering suicide than before the pandemic.
“A single life lost to an overdose is a life we should have saved. Stress, loss of housing and loss of employment for those in recovery caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a backslide in our fight against substance use disorders,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Improving behavioral health and resilience is a top priority for NCDHHS, and we will rally our community partners and our team to meet these new challenges as we focus on saving lives, prevention and the lasting supports needed for long-term recovery, including increasing the number of people with health insurance.”
The increase in overdose deaths is primarily driven by illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl and it’s speculated that roughly 70% of the overdose deaths in North Carolina in 2020 involved illicitly manufactured fentanyl. More than 60% of overdose deaths involve multiple substances, and there has been an increase in the use of stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
NCDHHS continues to implement the North Carolina Opioid and Substance Use Action Plan, which aims to prevent addiction, reduce harm from substance use and connect people to substance use services, housing and employment support, and to do all of this with attention to equity.
Specific actions include:
- To prevent overdoses, NCDHHS regularly provides free naloxone to syringe services programs, local government agencies, treatment providers and other community-based organizations.
- This year, 15 mobile health clinics funded by NCDHHS will begin working in hard-to-reach areas to assess clients and provide treatment, primary care and recovery support services.
- Community-based organizations receive funding and other support to extend the reach of overdose prevention, harm reduction and substance use treatment services. Certain programs are tailored for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
- NCDHHS funds a variety of trainings for professionals working locally in the field on initiatives like syringe services and harm reduction programs, justice-involved linkages to care, post-overdose response teams and prescribing medications for opioid use disorder.
- Progress is monitored on a data dashboard that tracks state, regional and county-level metrics and local actions.
- The Hope4NC helpline (1-855-587-3463), continues to assist those who need confidential emotional support, counseling referrals or connection to community resources.
For more information about effective ways to prevent and respond to overdose, visit www.ncdhhs.gov/about/department-initiatives/overdose-epidemic or ncopioidsettlement.org or email email@example.com.For more information about overdose data, visit www.injuryfreenc.ncdhhs.gov/DataSurveillance/Overdose.htm. or email firstname.lastname@example.org.