RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday that nearly 40,000 units of naloxone, a medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, will be distributed around North Carolina to help in the fight against opioid-related deaths in the state.
"The opioid epidemic is destroying lives and families across our state, and it's critical that we make life-saving treatment more widely available," Cooper said. "This action will help reduce deaths and turn the tide on this crisis."
The $3 million naloxone purchase funded by the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration allows the state to make the overdose reversal drug more widely available.
Increased access to naloxone is a focus area of the North Carolina Opioid Action Plan and a priority of the President's Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and Opioid Crisis. Gov. Cooper serves on the commission, where he has urged his colleagues to help expand access to affordable substance use disorder treatment and mental health care nationwide.
In addition, individuals with opioid-use disorders will now have better treatment options thanks to a decision to remove the North Carolina Medicaid program's prior approval requirement for Suboxone Film, allowing physicians to start this treatment immediately when indicated.
Suboxone Film is a prescription drug used for medication-assisted treatment that combines buprenorphine, which reduces opioid cravings, and naloxone, which helps prevent abuse of the drug. Before Nov. 1, patients had to receive prior approval from North Carolina Medicaid to be prescribed the drug. Removing that requirement allows quick access to treatment for patients.
"If someone struggling with substance use is ready to enter treatment, we should make that transition as simple as possible. I'm glad that in North Carolina we are removing barriers to treatment," added Cooper.
Opioid overdoses have been on the rise in North Carolina and across the nation in recent years. According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 12,000 North Carolinians have died from opioid overdoses since 1999.
In 2016, opioid-related deaths were up by more than 30 percent from the previous year. Since 1999, North Carolina has seen a 1000% increase in the number of opioid-related deaths.