Opioid Overdose Deaths on the Decline in North Carolina

CHARLOTTE, NC – Opioid overdose deaths are on the decline in North Carolina for the first time in five years. New numbers from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services show a 5% decline in deaths from the previous year.

Opioid overdose deaths skyrocketed by 34% in 2017 but changed course significantly in 2018.

“I was surprised because I encounter so many people who are struggling,” said Betsy Ragone.

She lost her son in 2016 to a heroin overdose. She started Michael’s Voice six months later. She now works with addicts and people who’ve lost loved ones to overdose.

She credits the decline to prevention programs, life-saving Narcan, and the pressure on pharmaceutical companies.

“I say this and it’s kind of bold and powerful, but dead people don’t recover,” said Ragone.

North Carolina has received over $75 million dollars in federal funding to date to fight the opioid epidemic. Ragone says the money is helping, as is the legal fight against pharmaceutical companies.

“My belief is that we should hold them accountable,” said Ragone.

Earlier this week, the Oklahoma attorney general successfully sued drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson for more than $520 million dollars.

“The defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma.,” said Oklahoma Federal Judge Thad Balkman.

Two thousand similar lawsuits from several states including North Carolina have been rolled into one federal trial slated for this fall.

Another major opioid manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, is reportedly in settlement talks with dozens of states and customers at a cost of $10 to $12 billion dollars.

“Before it was heroin crisis before it was a fentanyl crisis, it was a prescription drug crisis in this state, which was oxycontin,” said TJ Donovan, the Vermont Attorney General.

“We were hoodwinked as a people to thinking this wasn’t addictive at first,” said Ragone.

While state leaders continue to challenge companies in court, people on the front lines are cautiously optimistic.

” I think we’ve got a really long way to go,” said Ragone.