Drug overdoses killed an estimated 72,000 people in the U.S. last year. A new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control also shows that deaths from drug overdoses in North Carolina in 2017 soared at the second-highest rate in the nation.
The CDC expects to attribute 2,515 deaths in North Carolina last year to overdoses, a 22.5 percent increase from the previous year. Deaths from opioid overdoses are leading the surge, along with synthetic drugs like Fentanyl.
"These are [often] illicitly-manufactured analogues of Fentanyl that are sold in black markets and sold on the streets," said Dr. Susan Kansagra, head of the Chronic Disease and Injury Section in the NC Division of Public Health. "What we're finding now is that there's an increasing number of opioid overdose deaths due to those drugs," Kansagra added.
The increase in deaths comes despite stepped-up efforts by public health and other agencies in North Carolina to stem the opioid epidemic. The state launched an Opioid Action Plan in June of 2017. The plan outlines seven strategies, including reducing the amount of prescription opioids, expanding drug treatment and recovery programs, and making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone widely available.
The CDC data show that some states in New England and the Midwest have begun to see a reduction in opioid and other drug overdoses and deaths. Kansagra noted that Massachusetts, for example, has worked hard to increase drug treatment and access to care. "That's one of those things that we know here in North Carolina we need to do more of," said Kansagra.
Kansagra added that it's difficult to predict when North Carolina might begin to see a reduction in drug overdose deaths.
"We know we didn't get into this epidemic overnight, so it is going to take some time," said Kansagra.
She noted that one hopeful sign so far this year is a leveling-off of emergency room visits for drug overdoses in North Carolina.