North Carolina highlighted on map

Fatalities Due to Drug Abuse Hit Record Levels

RALEIGH, N.C. (March 3, 2016) – Drug overdose took the lives of 1,358 people in the state of North Carolina during 2014 – more than the number who died in traffic accidents.

“For far too long, the conventional thinking was that drug addiction was a choice made by criminals who are already intent on destroying the lives of themselves and others,” says Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). “However, we now know that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Senator Tillis agrees with Vertava Health that opiate addiction doesn’t discriminate in his state. It is a disease that crosses every gender, race, and socioeconomic status from CEO’s to straight A students to parents.

“That’s because the nightmare of addiction can begin with something as unassuming as a routine prescription for a painkiller like Oxycontin or Percocet,” says Senator Tillis. “Due to the highly addictive nature of these drugs, their bodies can become dependent and they experience debilitating withdrawal symptoms without them.”

Addiction to Opioids Reaches Full-Blown Epidemic in North Carolina

Once the person addicted is no longer able to obtain their drugs from the doctor, they turn to cheaper and deadlier drugs on their own, and that’s where the danger of the addiction increases. Thankfully, Congress is taking action. Senator Tillis says the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act is groundbreaking legislation that “brings together the experiences and recommendations of drug addiction experts, law enforcement, health care providers, first responders and those most affected by the opioid epidemic.”

Wednesday the full Senate considered amendments on CARA (S. 524/H.R. 953). The lead topic was the Shaheen amendment, which proposed emergency spending to address the opioid crisis, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass. Today the Senate will resume consideration of the bill.

“After years of misguided approach, Congress sees addiction for what it is,” says Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. “A health crisis.”

Amendments considered Wednesday were:

  • 3362 (Feinsetein), which gives the Justice Department additional tools to combat extraterritorial drug trafficking – Passed 89/0
  • 3395 (Wyden) – Rejected 46/50
  • 3345 (Shaheen), which would allocate funding to address the opioid epidemic, including $300 million for state programs focused on prevention, treatment and recovery; and $230 million to law enforcement initiatives, including treatment alternatives to incarceration – Rejected 48/47

Senator Thomas Tillis“Opioid prescription drug and heroin addiction is ripping away at the fiber of our homes and our communities in our nation,” says Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas).

The bill would not only expand prevention and education initiatives, but would give grants to substance abuse agencies, local governments, and nonprofits. The bill would also expand naloxone distribution, a known antidote to opioid overdose. It also provides resources to treat those incarcerated and place them in recovery.

“Addiction is a vicious and devastating cycle of abuse and despair,” says Senator Tillis. “It affects us all. The fight against addiction is one we must wage together, and one we cannot afford to lose.”

In North Carolina, it’s something that can’t wait. Officials say fatal drug overdoses in the state killed as many as 16 per 100,000 residents in 2014. Every county in North Carolina saw deaths rise, with the most occurring in the mountains. A report from the North Carolina Program Evaluation Division says prescription painkillers killed more people in 2010 than alcohol, cocaine and heroin combined together.


A Cherokee County Grand Jury indicted two doctors just this week for fraudulent drug activities for 5 counts of tracking in Opium/Heroin. In Nags Head, 2 owners of an animal hospital were charged with inappropriate prescribing and misuse of prescription medications. Investigators seized over 200 pills into evidence from the animal hospital and over 100 pills from a cookie jar found in their home. A witness accused them of taking medication from inventory for personal use, and covering it up by prescribing the medication to personal pets. They were released on bond, and are due back in court March 31.

Law enforcement data indicates that in 2015, the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and Wilmington Police Department seized more heroin in 2015 than in any year since 2012. 18 people died from opioid overdoses (5 attributed to heroin). In New Hanover, 24 (11 due to heroin). Wilmington Police Department Deputy Chief Mitch Cunningham says the drug has an easier route to American streets than before because of Mexican cartel control of northern Mexico.

Law enforcement officials tell local news a bag of heroin usually sells for $12-$18 in Wilmington, and that proceeds often support their city’s gang violence. There have been 314 overdose reversals in Wilmington alone since October, most of them through the use of Naloxone. WPD is expected to be equipped with the drug this month.

The state’s fatal drug overdose rate has jumped about 75% since 2002. In 2010, nearly half of the accidental drug overdose deaths in 2010 were associated with prescriptions that had been filled within 60 days of the death. North Carolina has on average 97 painkiller prescriptions written per 100 people, the 13th highest in the United States, according to the CDC. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported that heroin was responsible for 246 deaths in the state in 2014.

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