Opioid and Opiate Epidemic Continues to Rage Across North Carolina

It’s a reality unseen to many, yet a deadly tale across rural North Carolina: the power and potency of opioid and opiate drugs continue to unravel the social fabric of not only our disadvantaged rural areas, but our towns and cities as well.

And importantly, our state’s women.

Repeated studies have shown that women often become addicted to opioids quicker than men, and that first responders, hospitals and even the insurance policies used for treatment lack sufficient means to best help females overdosing or recovering from addiction. A study in 2016 showed men were three times more likely to be administered Narcan for a heroin overdose than women, despite that statistics show women’s use of the drug increases at a far greater rate than for men. For those wondering, Narcan (naxalone) reverses the effects of opioids and blocks overdoses. In many counties and cities across North Carolina, Narcan is an essential part of the medical technician’s tool kit.

Quality of care disparities between genders isn’t something new on the medical landscape, but it’s perhaps more fatal when considering the consequences of opioid abuse on women and subsequently, their families.

Some studies have shown that women tend to use substances differently than men, using smaller amounts for a shorter time before becoming dependent. When seeking treatment, women often have limited options because of limited transportation, childcare and other resources. And the region that consumes the highest percentages of opioids is in part nestled right here in North Carolina: Appalachia.

For mothers, opioid addiction triggers a swift and destructive event. Jobs are lost. Savings are depleted. Children are left neglected, abused and many ultimately end up removed from their homes and placed into the foster care system. For those children who are removed from their homes and placed with a relative, typically that relative is female. For women who take in grandchildren and other relatives fleeing an addicted parent face considerable financial loses. Some estimates from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services say such caregivers will have a total financial loss of more than $300,000 from lost wages, lowered social security benefits and lost opportunities for promotions, raises and further education.

North Carolina has suffered a staggering 884% increase in heroin deaths since 2010. From 2014-2015, heroin deaths saw perhaps its most disturbing statistic: deaths in that one year rose more than 300 percent from the previous year. To add an even more disturbing note, DHHS experts estimate if deaths from overdoses continue spiking at its current rate, overdose fatalities will surpass both firearm violence and motor vehicle deaths, becoming the number one killer statewide.

North Carolina’s women are more than 50 percent of the state’s population and more than 520,000 families are headed by women. In many and perhaps most cases, women are, and will continue to be the weavers of our societal fabric and the architects of a family’s moral and often financial success. Opioid addiction cannot be a gender-neutral discussion, doing so destroys families and the young people who need us most.

The situation is too dire to ignore.

Jessica Kozma Proctor - NC Council for Women Board Member