Six rural North Carolina communities will spilt $1.2 million in federal grant money that’s meant to enhance their ability to address the opioid epidemic through increased planning, prevention measures, addiction treatment and post-treatment care for addicts.

This week it was announced that the following institutions will each be awarded a $200,000 grant to fight the epidemic that’s grabbed headlines across the country: Ashe Memorial Hospital in Jefferson, Coastal Horizons Center in Wilmington, NC Quality Healthcare Alliance in Chapel Hill, Robeson Health Care Corporation in Pembroke, United Way of Rutherford County in Forest City, and Wilson Substance Abuse Coalition in Wilson.

Kody H. Kinsley, the NC Department of Health and Human Services’ deputy secretary for Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, stated in a press release that the opioid epidemic has hit rural areas particularly hard.

“Many North Carolinians living in rural communities struggle to access opioid use disorder treatment due to a lack of providers and insurance funding for treatment,” Kinsley said this week in the announcement of the grants.   “This award will support our efforts to address these challenges and help individuals obtain treatment and move into recovery.”

According to state officials, overdose deaths are very high throughout the state, with over five North Carolinians reported to be dying each day from unintentional opioid overdoses.  Also, the impact is felt at a higher rate in rural areas: From 2013 to 2017, there was a 130 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths in rural areas.

This new money is part of the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP) – a multi-year effort out of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that’s aimed at reducing deaths from substance abuse in high-risk rural communities.  According to the press release, these grants emphasize the HRSA’s position that “substance use disorder and opioid use disorder are community problems and require community-scale response.”

The problem, of course, isn’t limited to rural counties.  Guilford County, like other parts of the country, has had a massive problem with opioid addiction and overdoses, especially in the High Point area.  Guilford County is currently working with the UNCG and other partners to battle the problem and those programs have also benefited from grant money in the past – though Guilford County isn’t included in this latest round of funding that’s aimed at rural communities.

The HRSA has distributed over $25 million in grants to more than 120 rural organizations across the country in an attempt to increase access to substance abuse treatment services. These new grants are on top of a previous round of $800,000 in RCORP grants awarded to other North Carolina communities last year.