Hitting Home: The Opioid Crisis in North Carolina

This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York.
Credit Patrick Sison / AP

North Carolina faces a drug overdose problem that has strained police departments, hospitals, and care communities. The epidemic has ripped through families, leaving a wide berth of sorrow in its wake. More than 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid-related overdoses from 1999 to 2016, according to state figures. And since 2012, emergency visits across the state that include a substance abuse diagnosis have increased nearly 75 percent, according to data from the North Carolina Hospital Association.

"Hitting Home: The Opioid Crisis in North Carolina" takes a look at how the epidemic is playing out across the state.

Reporters: Jason deBruyn, James Morrison, Naomi Prioleau, Jeff Tiberii
Photographers: Ben McKeown, Raul Rubiera, AP
Editors: Elizabeth Baier, Dave DeWitt, Brent Wolfe


Heroin syringe
Thomas Martinsen / Flickr/Creative Commons

State lawmakers have introduced a bill that would implement stiffer penalties for people who distribute drugs that result in another person's death.

Fayetteville Police Department Captain Lars Paul shows a naloxone injectable kit and a naloxone nose spray Fayetteville police use to reverse opioid overdose.
Raul Rubiera / For WUNC

A national health insurer is pledging to help North Carolina fight the opioid epidemic.

The Aetna Foundation announced Tuesday it's giving $1 million dollars to the nonprofit North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition to purchase the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. The organization will then distribute the drug in rural parts of the state.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper sits for an interview with WUNC in the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Cooper addressed the opiod crisis affecting the state.
Ben McKeown / For WUNC

Governor Roy Cooper is taking a leadership role in North Carolina - and in the country – in addressing the opioid crisis. He was one of six members of President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

Samantha Morgan
Naomi Prioleau / WUNC

Samantha Morgan has been in an on-and-off relationship with sobriety for the majority of her life. When she was 12, she was homeless and living on the streets of Miami. By the age of 13, she had a $300-a-day cocaine habit.

Photo of prescription bottle and pils
Eric Norriss / Flickr Creative Commons

Jeffrey Halbstein-Harris had already beat addiction twice by the time he was in his 30s. But a doctor assured him that the opioids he was prescribing for Halbstein-Harris’s diabetic neuropathy were both effective and non-habit forming. Nevertheless, Halbstein-Harris became dependent and went through a painful withdrawal process.

Governor Roy Cooper tour areas of High Point, N.C., affected by the opioid epidemic during a ride-along with Chris Wilson, of the Guilford County Emergency Management Service on January 25, 2018.
Jeff Tiberii / WUNC

It’s a cold January morning in High Point as Governor Roy Cooper climbs into a white SUV. Guilford County EMS worker Chris Wilson drives through the city’s south side. On one side of the road there are two dingy motels. On the other a large cross and the message “God is love” on the ground.

Steve Pollard, of  Jackson Springs, N.C., hurt his back while on the job about five years ago. Now, he works in IT but pain medication is still a big part of his life.
Ben McKeown / For WUNC

Steve Pollard lives in Jackson Springs. It's in rural North Carolina near Pinehurst. About five years ago, Pollard hurt his back while on the job for a NASCAR team.

Frank Allison, the UNC-Chapel Hill Collegiate Recovery Initiatives Program Coordinator
Jason deBruyn / WUNC

Walk down Franklin Street in Chapel Hill on a Friday night and you're sure to run in to groups of college kids having a good time. For many, drinking is a part of the college experience. For some, however, drinking can lead to more serious problems, including opioid abuse.

Fayetteville Police Department Captain Lars Paul shows the naloxone nose spray the Fayetteville police use to reverse opioid overdose.
Raul Rubiera / For WUNC

The drug naloxone has become key in saving lives from opioid overdoses. It’s such a vital tool for fighting the opioid epidemic that many law enforcement officers in North Carolina now carry it with them at all times.