RALEIGH -- North Carolina is making nearly 40,000 more units of life-saving medication available to help fight the opioid epidemic, Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday.
The state has purchased the additional naloxone, which can reverse opioid overdose, to help reduce the number of unintentional opioid-related deaths in North Carolina.
In addition, individuals with opioid use disorders will now have better treatment options thanks to a decision to remove the North Carolina Medicaid program's prior approval requirement for Suboxone Film, allowing physicians to start this treatment immediately when indicated.
"The opioid epidemic is destroying lives and families across our state, and it's critical that we make life-saving treatment more widely available," Cooper said. "This action will help reduce deaths and turn the tide on this crisis."
Cooper made the announcement while visiting Carolina Treatment Center in Fayetteville, one of the facilities statewide that will receive the extra naloxone.
He also visited the Fayetteville Police Department to learn more about law enforcement assisted diversion that fights substance use by connecting individuals with treatment instead of jail.
The $3 million naloxone purchase was funded by the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The purchase allows the state to make the overdose reversal drug more widely available.
Increased access to naloxone is a focus area of the North Carolina Opioid Action Plan and a priority of the President's Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and Opioid Crisis.
Cooper serves on the commission, where he has urged his colleagues to help expand access to affordable substance use disorder treatment and mental health care nationwide.
Suboxone Film is a prescription drug used for Medication-Assisted Treatment that combines buprenorphine, which helps reduce opioid cravings, and naloxone, which helps prevent abuse of the drug.
Before Nov. 1, patients had to receive prior approval from North Carolina Medicaid to be prescribed Suboxone Film.
Removing that requirement allows quicker access to treatment for patients who are ready to commit to treatment for their substance use disorder.
"If someone struggling with substance use is ready to enter treatment, we should make that transition as simple as possible," Cooper said. "I'm glad that in North Carolina we are removing barriers to treatment."
Opioid overdoses have been on the rise in North Carolina and across the nation in recent years.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services more than 12,000 North Carolinians have died from opioid overdoses since 1999.
In 2016, opioid related deaths were up by more than 30 percent from the previous year. Since 1999, North Carolina has seen a 1,000 percent increase in the number of opioid-related deaths.
"We must continue to increase access to effective treatment for opioid addiction in order save lives and combat this crisis," said N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D. "This is an important step, but we still have a lot of work to do."
DHHS is distributing the naloxone to partners across the state, including EMS agencies, treatment centers, nonprofit drug addiction centers and networks of volunteers.
Each unit provides two doses of 4 milligrams that can reverse an opioid overdose and save a life.
NARCAN Nasal Spray is the only FDA-approved intranasal naloxone formulation that does not require assembly.
Last month, Cooper participated in a naloxone training for law enforcement officers in Wilmington.
Individuals who need assistance with treatment and recovery can contact non-profit organizations, treatment centers and hospitals.
For additional information about efforts to combat North Carolina's opioid crisis, visit https://www.ncdhhs.gov/opioids.