Throughout North Carolina in 2015, 738 deaths were attributed to overdosing on prescription opioid medications. That is double the amount of deaths caused by heroin and two and a half times the amount caused by cocaine.
One out of every four autopsies performed by state medical examiners are deaths from drug overdoses. The unintentional poisoning deaths in North Carolina during 2015 amounted to 1,370, with 92% of those occurring due to drugs and medications (OTC, prescription, and illicit). If the current trends persist, unintentional poisoning will overtake motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death in North Carolina.
From these statistics, it is clear that opioid abuse is one of the fastest growing problems in our state.
What are Opioids?
Opioids include heroin, methadone, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Many individuals believe that if they have a valid prescription and severe pain, these medications are harmless. While these prescriptions can provide pain relief, they can also be extremely dangerous.
What can be done to help?
In the fight against overdoses, naloxone can be a lifesaver. Naloxone is a medication that is used to treat an overdose by reversing the effects the opioids have on the body by temporarily blocking the same receptors the opioids use. While it will reverse the effects of opioids, it does not work on drugs such as benzodiazepines (diazepam, alprazolam), antihistamines, alcohol, or stimulants (cocaine, amphetamines).
In 2013, Gov. McCrory signed the Good Samaritan Law which allows emergency responders to administer naloxone to patients that have overdosed on opioids. In August of 2015, that law expanded by allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone to individuals with a valid prescription. In June of 2016, the order expanded once more, allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone pursuant to a standing order to patients and caregivers without a prescription. This made North Carolina just the third state to issue such a standard.
In accordance with the new standing order, Sona can provide naloxone kits to any individual who visits the pharmacy.
Two doses of intranasal medication are included within each kit, as well as the delivery device to administer it. The individuals also receive education regarding the risk factors for overdose, signs and symptoms of an overdose, response steps for an overdose, and the use/administration of the naloxone.
From 1996 through June 2014, naloxone kits were provided to 152,283 individuals nationally and were reported to have reversed 26,463 overdoses. Having these kits available could help save the lives of more than forty people that die each day in the United States from prescription opioid overdoses.
Although we have a long way to go in helping stop the opioid epidemic, naloxone kits are a huge step in helping save the lives of thousands of individuals every year.
What else can I do?
In partnership with Substance Free Buncombe Youth, Sona will also be hosting a Drug Take Back event this Saturday (April 29th) from 10 am – 2 pm. There will be free coffee and snacks, so please take a moment to stop by and properly dispose of your medications. By properly disposing of unneeded prescriptions, we can help keep opioids off the streets.
If you have any questions about naloxone kits, or would like to learn more about our drug take back event, please stop by Sona anytime.
Amber Korn PharmD