Photo courtesy Lauri Rantala, flickr creative commons

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<p>North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper joined other attorneys general in urging Congress to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.

By Taylor Sisk

In September, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper was among 38 attorneys general who addressed a letter to members of Congress urging them to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015. The legislation would provide federal funding to support state and local government efforts to confront “epidemic levels” of heroin and prescription opioid addiction.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper. Photo courtesy @RoyCooperNC

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses now surpass automobile accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death for Americans between the ages of 25 and 64,” the attorneys general wrote. “More than 100 Americans die as a result of overdose in this country every day – more than half of them caused by prescription drugs or heroin.”

The AGs reminded Congressional members that research shows that the most effective way to address this challenge is through a strategy that includes “prevention, law enforcement, reduction of overdose deaths, evidence-based treatment, and support for those in, or seeking, recovery.”

Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act funding would:

“We know that addiction is a treatable disease, but we also know that only about ten percent of those who need treatment are receiving it,” the attorneys general wrote. “Only through a comprehensive approach that leverages evidence-based law enforcement and health care services, including treatment, can we stop and reverse current trends.”

Read our companion article: State & Local Officials Push Manufacturers to Pay for Drug Disposal

Randy Van Buren brought in his family’s old medications to a 2012 Operation Medicine Drop event in Pittsboro. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

Cooper, in an email response to questions submitted by North Carolina Health News, echoed this statement, saying that the state needs to address prescription drug and heroin addiction with “increased awareness, strong law enforcement and better access to treatment and recovery.”

In the past decade and a half, North Carolina has experienced a sharp increase in deaths from unintentional opioid overdose. In 1999, 279 North Carolinians died of unintentional poisoning; in 2014, 1,178 died. About 80 percent of those deaths were from opioids.

In NC today …

Cooper spoke specifically of his concern for prescription drug misuse among young people.

“While rates of drug abuse are down overall, more and more teens are abusing prescription drugs today,” Cooper said. “Nearly one in five teens reports abusing prescription drugs to get high.”

The illegal diversion of prescription drugs is the fastest-growing drug problem in America, he said, and is taking a toll in North Carolina as well.

According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, there were more than 10,000 emergency room visits related to unintentional overdoses in North Carolina in 2011.

Photo courtesy Lauri Rantala, flickr creative commons

Cooper cited recent research from the National Institutes of Health that found that “nearly half of young heroin users reported abusing prescription opioids first, with some turning to heroin because they found it cheaper and easier to get.”

“Prescription drugs are more available now than they were 20 years ago due to increased prescribing,” Cooper said. “Some of these drugs, especially painkillers, are worth a lot of money on the street. We see people illegally diverting legally obtained prescription drugs to sell them or share them with friends and family.

He also cited “doctor shopping” and prescription fraud and theft as ways that people gain access to opioids.

When misused or abused, he said, “prescription drugs can be just as dangerous and just as deadly as street drugs, but many people – especially many young people – don’t know this. Parents often underestimate teens’ abuse of prescription drugs, and teens often underestimate the risks of abuse.”

What’s to be done?

A number of efforts to address this urgency are already underway across the state.

Cooper cited his office’s sponsorship of the “Stop Rx Abuse” contest held each year to educate teens, and encourage them to educate others, about the risks of prescription drugs.

He also pointed to his office’s partnership with law enforcement and substance use, education and criminal justice professionals to develop a course available to all North Carolina teachers called “Preventing Substance Abuse and Underage Drinking Among K12 Students.”

“I’d like to see better use of statewide prescription drug monitoring programs that can help spot things like doctor shopping and unusual numbers of painkiller prescriptions,” Cooper said. “We’ve improved North Carolina’s Controlled Substance Reporting System to make it easier for doctor’s offices and pharmacies to use.”

Should the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act pass, he cited some examples of how he would like to see the funding used. These include:

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