DHHS Secretary Asks Clinicians to Help Fight Opioid Abuse


DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, MD, is calling on thousands of clinicians across North Carolina to join the fight against opioid addiction in North Carolina, a crisis that has seen more than 13,000 North Carolinians die unnecessarily from unintentional overdoses since 1999.

“We need the help of all prescribers to turn the tide of this opioid crisis,” Cohen said. “At DHHS and across Governor Cooper’s administration, we are working in a coordinated fashion to ramp up prevention, treatment and recovery efforts.”

In her letter, sent today, she notes that several factors have contributed to the opioid epidemic facing North Carolina and the rest of our country. The roots of this national and state crisis trace back nearly two decades when physicians and other clinicians were encouraged to treat pain more aggressively, and patients were counseled that all pain could be readily and quickly controlled without long-term negative impacts. We now know much more about the highly addictive properties of opioids and the complex social and economic factors that have created the perfect storm resulting in this crisis.

Cohen believes North Carolina is uniquely positioned to help end this epidemic. Her letter identifies ways clinicians can take an active role in curbing abuse, including:

  • Screening patients for risk or presence of opioid use disorder, and connecting them with evidence-based treatment
  • Using secure prescribing software to communicate prescription orders, particularly for drugs that are prone to abuse and diversion
  • Registering with the N.C. Controlled Substance Reporting System to review patient prescription histories and incorporate them into clinical best practices around prescribing
  • Visiting CDC’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, which has been adopted by the NC Medical Board. Free training is underway.

Cooper’s proposed budget calls for directing more than $14 million to address the opioid crisis. His budget proposal would also invest in the N.C. Controlled Substances Reporting System.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the cost of overdose deaths in North Carolina totaled $1.8 billion in 2015. Overdose death rates are higher among men, whites, and those between the ages of 25-54. Opioid deaths involving prescription pain medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl are leading causes of all overdose deaths. DHHS has posted to its web site a fact sheet detailing these and other helpful statistics.