Author: Gretchen Kalar
Leaders from across the state came together for the Opioid Misuse & Overdose Prevention Summit on June 11-12.
June 18, 2019 – The two-day Opioid Misuse & Overdose Prevention Summit held last week served as an opportunity to reflect on progress made in North Carolina’s fight against the opioid epidemic and as a rallying cry to continue to invest in supporting communities through prevention and treatment of opioid misuse and overdose.
Eight hundred stakeholders, leaders and educators from across 11 states, the District of Columbia and North Carolina attended the Raleigh summit, which featured speakers such as Governor Roy Cooper, NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, Attorney General Josh Stein, retired U.S. Navy Admiral James “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr. and others. Afternoon breakout sessions on both days allowed attendees to take deeper dives into the different topics surrounding the epidemic.
Kody Kinsley, NCDHHS Deputy Secretary of Behavioral Health and Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, kicked off the summit.
“We envision a healthy North Carolina,” he said. "...We need a community-wide approach to the opioid epidemic. Our treatment strategies must treat the whole person,…mind, body, family and community.”
Kinsley noted all three alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers operated by NCDHHS now have a certified opioid treatment center. He said that North Carolina has received over $54 million to combat the opioid crisis, providing treatment for over 12,000 individuals.
“We are finding every dollar we can, and we are putting those dollars to use,” Kinsley said. “Let’s use every tool we have to fight this epidemic. We’ve made progress, but we cannot lose our sense of urgency.”
Secretary Cohen thanked partners and colleagues for their work on the opioid epidemic and shared the state’s progress.
“Since the launch of the Opioid Action Plan in 2017, opioid dispensing has decreased by 24 percent,” Secretary Cohen said. “We have seen a 10% decline in emergency room overdoses since the original Opioid Action Plan.”
Along with these, North Carolina has also funded peer support specialists in six emergency rooms; launched a medical resiliency training project; improved the state’s prescription drug monitoring system; received new Medicaid flexibilities and payments; introduced public education campaigns; diversified and expanded harm reduction strategies; and trained over 3,000 providers on the safe prescribing of opioids and pain treatment.
“Thanks to the hard work of partners, we’re starting to see results,” Secretary Cohen said. “… We are actually seeing a turn in the tide. But we still have more work to do.”
Governor Cooper thanked private sector partners, doctors, payers, non-profit leaders, public policy advocates and staff at DHHS for their work on the opioid epidemic.
“Opioid overdoses have claimed the lives of 13,000 people in North Carolina since 1999,” Governor Cooper said. “We, and that includes each and every one of you, refuse to stand by and watch this devastation continue.”
Governor Cooper unveiled the state’s new road map to combatting the opioid crisis, the Opioid Action Plan 2.0.
“Two years ago, I was at this summit when we launched the Opioid Action Plan in 2017,” said Governor Cooper. “We have made some great progress, but we have more to go. This updated plan will build on our success. Our goal is unwavering. Together, we will reduce opioid deaths in North Carolina.”
Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Winnefeld next shared how he lost his son Jonathan to the opioid epidemic. His son struggled with opioid addiction while in high school and was later admitted into treatment.
Jonathan did well. But three days after entering college, he died from an overdose. After his death, Winnefeld and his wife Mary started the SAFE Project, a national nonprofit that takes a collaborative, multi-pronged and non-partisan approach to ending the addiction epidemic.
“We felt with the network we had, we could weigh in with other organizations in the country and we could do our part,” Winnefeld said. “Like countering terrorism, reversing the tide of the opioid epidemic will require sophisticated thinking about strategy and thoughtful application of soft and hard power.”
One avenue for action is the General Assembly, and State Sens. Jim Davis and Gladys A. Robinson discussed legislative efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.
Davis said a bill he introduced in response to the opioid epidemic that would, among other things, increase access to office-based opioid treatment (OBOT) for opioid use disorder and allow people to test drugs for dangerous contaminants like fentanyl before they use them. He emphasized the importance of empowering legislation versus legislation that enables and how our policymakers need to be proactive in creating policies that empower people to get their lives back on track. Davis acknowledged that over the years his mindset has shifted to recognize that he must look at “why” people are turning to and becoming addicted to substances. Robinson emphasized the importance to get more people access to care.
On the second day of the summit, Attorney General Stein discussed the economic cost of the opioid epidemic and the work the Department of Justice is undertaking. In the spring, DOJ launched the More Powerful campaign in North Carolina. It is anchored in the message that together, we are more powerful than opioids.
“We have collaborated with Secretary Mandy Cohen, along with other public and private partners on the More Powerful campaign,” Stein said. “We understand the importance of this issue in our state.”
Data shows two-thirds of young people report getting pain pills and opioids form families and friends, he said, and the medicine cabinet is a magnet. The campaign encourages people to get rid of unused pills at drop drug take back boxes throughout the state.
Stein also urged the audience to take the More Powerful pledge and do their part to fight the epidemic.
Monique Tula, executive director of the NC Harm Reduction Coalition, also spoke on the second day of the summit and presented data behind reducing the stigma around addiction. The data showed the different eras of substance abuse and the stigma related to each population that dealt with the backlash from those stigmas. Tula discussed the four dimensions of recovery.
“Dimensions of recovery are health, home, purpose and community,” Tula said. “These dimensions align well with the principles of harm reduction. These are health and dignity, participated-centered, meaningful involvement, autonomy, sociocultural factors and pragmatic/realism.”
After the summit, Governor Cooper and Secretary Cohen met with people in recovery and parents who had lost their children to the opioid epidemic. The roundtable discussion focused on how Medicaid expansion would benefit those who cannot receive substance abuse treatment because of a lack of insurance.
“Too many families and their loved ones are suffering from this devastating, yet treatable, disease,” Governor Cooper said. “We need to hear their call to use all tools available to combat the opioid epidemic.”
To learn more about the opioid epidemic, and to read Opioid Action Plan 2.0, visit www.ncdhhs.gov/opioids.