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A new state law aimed to reduce barriers in the fight against the opioid crisis will also influence local initiatives.
Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Opioid Epidemic Response Act into law July 22. Officials say the law will help increase access to medication-assisted treatment and expand harm reduction measures to reduce opioid overdose deaths across the state.
From 1999-2017, more than 13,000 North Carolinians died as the result of unintentional opioid overdoses, according to state figures.
“This law opens up a lot of room for community partnerships to be made in the name of reducing barriers and increasing access to prevention, treatment and recovery support services,” said Anna Godwin, executive director of Community Impact N.C., whose offices are in Wilson.
The nonprofit is the coordinator for the N.C. Opioid Overdose and Misuse Prevention Summit. Community Impact N.C. is an organization that provides support to prevention coalitions across the state and aims to work in partnership with communities to support and create evidence-based practices and education that prevent and minimize the harm of substance use. Community Impact was formerly known as Families in Action, which has served Wilson and the state for many years.
“Locally, this law directly supports the new funding received by Wilson County’s coalition from the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is focused on access to prevention, treatment and recovery support services for rural communities,” said Godwin, also a Wilson County Substance Prevention Coalition board member. “It lends itself to the credibility and value of our local coalition’s work moving forward.”
Wilson’s coalition was recently awarded a $200,000 federal grant.
“The law allows community coalitions the opportunity to create new collaborations and strategies around opioids, especially with law enforcement, local health departments, hospitals and primary care physicians,” said Erin Day, Community Impact’s director of the division of coalition support. “It also provides the opportunity for prevention coalitions to provide education to organizations that will be implementing new policies and procedures as a result of the law.”
What the Opioid Response Act will do
• Increase access to office-based opioid treatment for opioid use disorder, which will remove duplicative state registration of buprenorphine prescribers that North Carolina doctors widely cite as a barrier to prescribing medication-assisted treatment in the office-based setting, according to a governor’s office press release. Buprenorphine, which is Food and Drug Administration-approved, is used as a medication-assistance treatment that helps opioid dependency.
• Save lives by allowing people to test drugs for dangerous contaminants such as fentanyl before they use them, which includes decriminalizing the use of paraphernalia designed to test the strength or purity of drugs, such as fentanyl test strips, according to the governor’s office.
• Improve the ability of syringe exchange programs to prevent the spread of disease and remove the ban of using state funds to purchase supplies for syringe exchange programs. Wilson is one of several counties across the state with a syringe exchange program. The heroin epidemic has caused a spike in hepatitis C cases throughout the country, including in North Carolina.
Heroin users often share needles, exposing themselves and others to health risks including hepatitis C, a bloodborne virus. It’s not curable, but there is treatment for it. But if individuals don’t know they have it and it’s not treated, it can cause cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer and eventually lead to death, according to health officials.