Over most of the last five years, deaths due to drug overdoses in North Carolina have trended upward. Nevertheless, there was a dramatic increase in overdose deaths of 40% between 2019 and 2020.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services provides some insight into what is driving this trend and why there was such a dramatic increase over such a short period.
What drugs do the overdose deaths involve?
Opioids such as heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl played a role in approximately 70% of North Carolina drug overdose deaths in 2020. Many of the deaths involved multiple substances.
It is a common practice to use fentanyl to cut other drugs, and the people who use them do not always know that it is present. Fentanyl is a highly potent narcotic, and exposure to even a very small amount could cause a fatal overdose.
Do some ethnic groups experience higher overdose rates than others?
In 2020, both the highest increase in overdose deaths and the highest overdose death rate occurred among Indigenous people, a historically marginalized community.
What specific and general factors contribute to overdose deaths in North Carolina?
In 2020, many people in recovery experienced a backslide due to increased stress. In some cases, the stress stemmed from loss of employment or housing.
Generally speaking, an overdose may prove fatal if other people are afraid to call emergency services to summon emergency services for fear of facing drug possession charges. However, North Carolina has a Good Samaritan law in effect that prevents authorities from prosecuting those who call 911 to report an overdose for possession of paraphernalia or small amounts of drugs.