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Local News

Report: Drug Overdoses Climb in North Carolina, Nationwide

Credit: iStock

Nadia Ramlagan

More North Carolinians are struggling with substance-use disorders, according to the latest America’s Health Rankings Report.

State data show nine North Carolinians died each day from a drug overdose in 2020, a 40% increase from the previous year.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare employer and individual, reported it mirrors a nationwide trend. She pointed to new data showing drug deaths nationwide increased by 30%.

“This is the largest yearly increase in drug deaths since we’ve been looking at it in 2007,” Randall explained. “That means nearly 92,000 additional people died in the United States due to drug injury and overdose.”

There were more than 3,100 drug overdose deaths in North Carolina in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over the past two decades, more than 28,000 North Carolinians have lost their lives to drug overdose, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Randall emphasized heavy drug use continues to burden families, communities, the health care system and the economy.

“What we see is a substantial amount of that cause of those drug overdose deaths,” Randall noted. “About 70% of it is related to an opioid, in most cases, it’s a nonprescription opioid.”

While the rate of frequent mental distress reported by residents soared during the pandemic, Randall pointed out bright spots, noting the number of communities nationwide boosting their supply of mental-health and primary-care providers has gone up.

“More people choosing mental health and primary care as a profession,” Randall stressed. “More access to mental-health providers.”

According to the report, suicide is the 12th-leading cause of death among Americans, with mental illness and substance-use disorders being the most significant risk factors for suicidal behaviors. In 2020, more than 45,000 people nationwide chose to end their lives.

Disclosure: United Healthcare contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


America’s Health Rankings UnitedHealth Foundation 2022
Opioid data N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services 2022
Overdose deaths CDC 2021

This story was written by Nadia Ramlagan, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.