We’ve lost 13,000 of our fellow North Carolinians to unnecessary deaths from unintentional opioid overdoses since 1999. One in 4 people receiving prescription opioids long-term from a primary care doctor struggles with addiction. Addiction to heroin and other illegal opioids, as well as misuse of prescription pain medications, is a national crisis, with devastating effects on the people it touches.
Alliance Behavioral Healthcare applauds N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen’s appeal to clinicians across North Carolina to join the fight against opioid addiction in our state. We also support bipartisan discussions in the N.C. General Assembly aimed at addressing this epidemic, and encourage expanded state funding for the treatments and supports desperately needed by people experiencing a range of substance use disorders.
Over the past year at Alliance, when our data analysis and internal medical and clinical staff identified a pattern of risky prescription of benzodiazepines and opioids, we began to design and implement a set of responses that aligns with what the state is doing to reduce prescription drug abuse.
We offer technical assistance for clinicians and service providers in our network and share education on best-practice prescribing guidelines and how to assess and effectively treat opioid use disorders. We’ve increased reimbursement rates to providers who implement medication-assisted treatment, an evidence-based program that uses buprenorphine, which has been found to be effective in treating opioid-use disorders.
We extend beyond our provider network to help local pharmacists better understand opioid addiction as a chronic, preventable and treatable disease, and to increase awareness of the risk of opioids and possible drug interactions. We also engage with them about offering naloxone to people identified as high-risk for opioid overdose. Naloxone is a medication used to quickly block the effects of opioids and to save the life of a person who has overdosed.
Working in partnership with the NC Harm Reduction Coalition, Alliance allocated $100,000 to supply naloxone free of charge to community providers as well as consumers with known addictions and their families, along with education on how to administer it. We made this potentially lifesaving medication available to the Wake County Sheriff’s Office and to TASC, a program in Cumberland County.
We’re including instruction in the use of naloxone in our Crisis Intervention Team training, a program that teaches law enforcement officers and other first responders to respond appropriately to people in behavioral health crisis.
While we remain mindful of the 1,500 accidental overdoses in North Carolina last year, for the first time, there have been more overdose reversals in the state with naloxone than deaths from opioids. That’s encouraging, but there’s still much to be done.
Alliance’s Crisis and Assessment Centers are often ground zero in the response to people in trouble with addiction and overdose. These facilities, including WakeBrook in Raleigh and the Durham Recovery Response Center, are community-based alternatives to hospital emergency departments that help stabilize those in crisis and ensure they are connected to appropriate follow-up care.
That’s why our plan to invest $41 million over the next three years to better meet the behavioral health care needs of communities includes a commitment to enhancing our crisis capacity. Planning is underway for a new crisis center in Wake County, as well as a facility to meet the needs of children and adolescents in crisis.
Addiction is a chronic disease that cuts across the fabric of socioeconomic status, ethnicity and race, gender and geography. It will take a concerted and combined commitment from federal, state and local government, community providers, clinicians and pharmacists, law enforcement and community stakeholders to make a difference.
Rob Robinson is the chief executive officer of Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, the managed care organization for publicly funded behavioral health services for over 471,000 Medicaid-eligible and uninsured residents of Durham, Wake, Johnston and Cumberland counties.