After years of almost nothing but bad news on the opioid crisis front in Guilford County, there’s finally some good news: The number of people who die from opioid overdose has been nearly cut in half in Guilford County in 2018.

While the year still has a couple of weeks to go and the numbers for 2018 are preliminary, Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright said the survival rates for those who overdose on opioids in the county are unquestionably much better than last year.

In 2017, there were 104 deaths classified as opioid-related overdoses in the county while so far in 2018 that number is down to 55.

The death rate from overdoses dropped despite the fact that the actual number of overdoses responded to in the county went up in 2018. In 2017, there were about 700 calls for overdoses, while in 2018, there were roughly 800.  That’s not a positive trend but it’s encouraging that, despite more overdoses this year, there’s been a big reduction in the number of deaths.

Albright said the opioid death count for 2018 is preliminary but he added that there’s no question the survival rate is dramatically improving.  He said one factor is the ubiquity of and effective use of the drug Naloxone and he added that programs implemented by Guilford County and UNCG are helping overdose victims.  He also pointed to the work of those like Chase Holleman, the former Naloxone program coordinator for Caring Services, who’s now the program navigator for UNCG in the Department of Social Work.

This year Guilford County began an effort called GCSTOP, which stands for Guilford County Solution to the Opioid Problem.  In that program, teams made up of members from several county departments help those with substance abuse problems through follow up visits after an overdose or other crisis.

Albright said there’s no question that the opioid epidemic is raging strong, but he added that he thinks effective steps are being taken to reduce the number of users.  For one thing, he said, people are much more aware of the problem, and he pointed out that, on Sunday, Dec. 16, the news show 60 Minutesdid an in-depth piece on the opioid epidemic – to take one of many examples of media attention.  He also said that state legislation had helped reduce the number of prescriptions written for opioids in North Carolina by 30 percent.

According to Alight, other steps are being taken such as getting the user help immediately after an overdose and teaching them never to use alone, because, if they do and they overdose, there’s no one to call 911.