Addressing the Opioid Crisis: Insights from the NC Summit on Reducing Overdose

Blog | June 22, 2023


The opioid crisis continues to devastate communities across the United States, and North Carolina is no exception. With an alarming rate of 11 people dying every day from overdoses in the state, urgent action is needed. In response to this public health concern, the NC Summit on Reducing Overdose convened on June 7-8, 2023, bringing together key stakeholders, experts, and community leaders to discuss strategies for combating the crisis. The summit, organized by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC), featured insightful keynote speeches, panel discussions, and presentations from individuals and organizations working in harm reduction and other innovative strategies. NCIOM President and CEO Kathleen Colville, PhD, served on a panel about collaborative strategic planning, presenting on the recent report, “Practical Considerations for North Carolina’s Community Leaders: The Challenges, Opportunities, and Transformative Potential of Opioid Settlement Funds.”

NC Attorney General Josh Stein noted during a welcome address that with a staggering 20% increase in overdose deaths in 2021, North Carolina is facing one of the deadliest times in American history regarding overdose-related fatalities. Stein stressed the importance of reducing stigma surrounding substance abuse and the critical need to allocate funding effectively to tackle the crisis.

“The scope of this problem is enormous, but what a relief it is to have a steady stream of resources to battle this epidemic,” said Stein.

In July 2021, Stein announced a $26 billion agreement that resolved litigation over the role of four companies in creating and perpetuating the opioid epidemic. The agreement led to county and regional planning for distribution of these funds to effectively serve individuals and humanities harmed by opioid use.

Reverend Michelle Mathis, from the Olive Branch Ministry, keynoted the first day of the summit, highlighting the significance of harm reduction and meaningful engagement. As a faith-based harm-reduction society, Olive Branch focuses on meeting individuals struggling with substance abuse where they are, providing housing and access to low-barrier treatment. Reverend Mathis stressed the importance of intentional interaction with those who have used – and currently use – drugs, and the need to address affordable housing and safe housing as distinct but interconnected challenges for these populations.

The summit featured panel discussions on various topics aimed at reducing overdose deaths, shedding light on innovative approaches and best practices in addressing the opioid crisis.

  1. Caring for Pregnant People Who Use Drugs: Addressing Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal (NOWS) This panel discussed the challenges faced in caring for pregnant individuals with substance use disorders, particularly the need for comprehensive care beyond pregnancy. It emphasized the importance of collaboration, evidence-based models, and integrated systems to achieve the best outcomes for both mother and child.
  2. Meeting People Where They Are: Innovating Pathways to Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) This panel highlighted the inadequacy of traditional approaches, such as abstinence-based programs, and emphasized the importance of a medication-first approach. It showcased successful initiatives that integrated MOUD access in hospital and community settings, promoting harm reduction and reducing stigma.
  3. Digging Into Root Causes: Social & Economic Determinants to the Opioid Overdose Crisis This discussion centered on the social and economic determinants underlying the opioid crisis. Strategies to address these root causes were explored, including funding initiatives focused on social determinants of health (SDOH) like housing, education, and economic opportunities. The panel emphasized the need for collaboration, community readiness, and an inclusive approach to tackling the crisis effectively.

In a collaborative strategic planning session about facilitating difficult conversations, panelists – including NCIOM President and CEO Kathleen Colville – discussed the case of Randolph County, which in 2016 faced a significant issue with overdose deaths. To address this, the health department initiated a coalition that acknowledged difficult conversations as inevitable and crucial for resolution and improved collaboration. The coalition also acknowledged the importance of saving lives while highlighting trust concerns regarding funding and representation at the table. County commissioners approved short- and long-term recommendations from the coalition, including funding for pilot projects and Narcan and syringe service programs.

The summit underscored the importance of collaboration, transparency, and equitable access to comprehensive care. By implementing evidence-based strategies, reducing stigma, and addressing the social and economic determinants at the heart of the crisis, North Carolina is taking significant steps forward in saving lives and rebuilding communities affected by the opioid epidemic.


Read the NCIOM report on Practical Considerations for North Carolina’s Community Leaders here.