Data: Heroin, opioid abuse may be trending down


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, August 11, 2017

Heroin and opioid abuse in northeastern North Carolina may actually be trending downward from 2016, based upon mid-year data that Albemarle Regional Health Services shared Wednesday.

ARHS, a seven-county health department, provided the data following a planning meeting for a regional forum on opioid abuse, a growing local and national problem.

ARHS officials have described opioid abuse as an “epidemic,” as first responders have increasingly reported encountering people overdosing on prescription medications and heroin. Opioid-based pain medications can be people’s gateway to heroin abuse, ARHS officials have noted.

ARHS’ data from Jan. 1 through June 30, however, show documented opioid incidents are fewer than half what they were in 2016. That means the number of incidents is trending lower than in prior years — though that could change from July through December.

ARHS spokeswoman Jill Jordan noted the data are incomplete and “it is likely too premature to determine what may have caused any downward trend,” though she noted awareness of the widespread issue has increased.

The following are data from ARHS on opioid overdoses for the year so far:

* Medication/drug overdoses total 147 so far in 2017, compared to 329 for 2016 and 365 for 2015. Seventy-four, or about half, of those overdoses happened in Pasquotank.

* Heroin-related emergency department visits total 18 so far in 2017, compared to 49 in 2016 and 58 in 2015. Pasquotank and Bertie counties had the most emergency visits so far this year, with four each.

* Heroin overdoses total eight so far in 2017, compared to 24 in both 2016 and 2015. Pasquotank had the most overdoses of any one county with three, followed by Camden, which had two.

* Opioid overdoses total 13 so far in 2017, compared to 55 in 2016 and 53 in 2015. Pasquotank had the most overdoses of any one county, with six, followed by Camden, Currituck and Perquimans, each of which reported two.

Notably, Pasquotank is the most populous of ARHS’s seven counties, meaning its numbers of drug-related incidents may be larger than other counties’ but not necessarily disproportionate.