Over the past two decades, patients with pain disorders have been treated with alarmingly high amounts of opioids, resulting in unintentional overdoses and even deaths.  

Today, more people are dying from opioid overdose than from car accidents or gun homicides. 

In fact, in 2015, unintentional opioid poisonings took the lives of 998 North Carolinians, a 900 percent increase since 1999. People of all age ranges and socioeconomic status have been affected by opioid dependency. It is a devastating crisis, and hospital systems and community health associations are working together to address the issue.  

In North Carolina, the state is working to address the epidemic by allocating funding from a two-year grant it received to fight opioid dependency. Made possible by the 21 Century Cures Act passed in 2016, North Carolina will allocate 80 percent of the funds to recovery and treatment services.  

Novant Health recognizes that opioid prescribing patterns must change and that patients who have opioid use disorder should be identified and treated. As a result, Novant Health is building a structure to develop and sustain processes for a holistic approach to opioid stewardship. 

This three-year initiative will address the following areas:

  • Appropriate prescribing of opioids for acute, post-surgical and chronic pain
  • Use of multiple forms of pain therapies to reduce opioid prescribing and provide better pain relief
  • Alternative pain therapy (massage, yoga, physical therapy)
  • Identification and treatment of patients with opioid use disorder and/or dependency
  • Transitioning patients from one care setting to another to ensure their pain and/or dependency needs are met.

In Virginia, the state is addressing the opioid epidemic through a program called REVIVE, a multiagency effort to provide training in opioid abuse recognition and response.

According to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, there was an increase of 1,578 percent of prescription opioid deaths between 1999 and 2013 – and this number continues to rise. In addition to providing training to the local law enforcement and community at large regarding how to respond to an opioid overdose emergency, Virginia has issued a statewide standing order for naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects that opioids have on the brain. Virginia residents can now request naloxone directly from the pharmacy without having to visit their doctor or medical provider.  

Montgomery County in Ohio also recognized the need to address the opioid epidemic.  They are planning the creation of a one-stop crisis care center. The goal is to reduce the burden on hospital emergency rooms and jails. The proposed crisis center will likely be a partnership involving the county and the area’s largest hospital systems. 

The center will house people on a voluntary or involuntary basis for a short time to get them started with medication and counseling, as well as refer to additional services. In addition to this proposed center, Montgomery County currently offers community education, makes naloxone (a drug that reverses or blocks the side effects of opioid medications) available to those leaving jail, and connects individuals and their families with community resources.