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The Daily Tar Heel

Drug fatalities hit record levels in the state

The rate of deaths caused by drug overdose nearly doubled in the state over 12 years from 2002 to 2014.

Drug overdoses were responsible for 1,358 deaths in North Carolina in 2014, the CDC said in the study — eclipsing the number of deaths from car accidents and firearms in the state.

In 2002, the rate of fatal overdose was approximately 7.8 per 100,000 people. But by 2014, the rate increased to 13.7 deaths. All 100 counties in North Carolina have experienced an increase in the number of drug overdose deaths over the past 12 years.

Addiction to prescription opioids painkillers are the most common culprit, said Tessie Castillo, the advocacy and communications coordinator for the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition.

North Carolina doctors prescribe painkillers at one of the highest rates in the nation, according to the CDC.

The problem is particularly prevalent in western North Carolina, where some counties recorded more than 20 deaths per 100,000 people — some of the highest rates in the country.

While the prescription drug problem has been on the rise for a decade, Castillo said addicts without access to prescription drugs are now turning to heroin more frequently.

“Heroin use has been rising very rapidly in the last four or five years,” she said.

“(Heroin-related deaths) have gone up 565 percent between 2010 and 2014 in North Carolina.”

The N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition reported that heroin was responsible for 246 deaths in 2014.

College can be a particularly vulnerable time for students to develop drug addictions, Castillo said.

“Most people who start using drugs start as teenagers, and so by college their addictions are pretty bad,” she said. “Some people start in college, as they move away from home and have more freedom to experiment.”

UNC’s Annual Campus Security Report for 2015 noted the number of total drug-related arrests and referrals has increased over each of the past three years. But alcohol-related arrests and referrals are still more common.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug on UNC’s campus, said Randy Young, a spokesperson for the UNC Department of Public Safety.

But while heroin and cocaine use have not been as prevalent, he said they are being seen more frequently on campus.

“We know that it’s out there, and it’s been on the rise,” Young said.

“It’s something that we’re keeping an eye on because we understand (the trend) nationwide.”

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