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Painkillers Pain NC, Addicts Turn to Heroin

Heroin addiction and consequent overdoses are on the rise in North Carolina and attributed in part to the reduced availability of black market pain medication. (L./Flickr)
Heroin addiction and consequent overdoses are on the rise in North Carolina and attributed in part to the reduced availability of black market pain medication. (L./Flickr)
March 28, 2016

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Thousands of North Carolinians are addicted to prescription painkillers and, as new laws limit their prescription and availability, opioid addicts are turning to the street drug heroin to feed their addiction.

Dr. Chris Flanders works in the emergency department at Mission Hospital in Asheville.

"We're seeing far more folks coming in with heroin overdoses," says Flanders. "Over time, what's happened is the cost of pain pills is more than the cost of heroin. That's a big part of the driving force behind this trend."

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Health, the number of heroin overdose deaths increased by more than six-fold since 1999.

In 2014, the most recent data available, more than 28,000 people died nationwide.

Because heroin addiction is often the result of someone looking for an opioid, after a prescribed painkiller is no longer available, some medical experts are exploring other pain management options that are non-addictive.

Those include medicine administered by pump, nerve blocks, cognitive therapy and mindfulness techniques.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, North Carolina is one of only 12 states that cut mental health funding in this budget year, slashing it by $110 million.

Flanders says a lack of mental health support, as well as addiction programs, is propagating the issue.

"One thing that's glaring is the huge lack of treatment facilities and huge lack of funds for treatment facilities statewide," says Flanders. "Substance abuse along with mental health has been steadily defunded by our state legislature over the years, and we are reaping the consequences of it."

In February of this year, President Obama proposed more than $1 billion in additional funding to address the nationwide issue of prescription drug and heroin abuse.

The number of admissions for heroin addiction is also on the rise, with that number more than doubling in the last 10 years across the state.

That's according to an analysis of data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration via the health news website Health Grove, which ranks North Carolina number nine for admissions to treatment facilities.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC