North Carolina’s opioid epidemic, and responses by DHHS


The Appalachian Online

Jackie Park, Reporter

An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Watauga County has the highest rate of opioid abuse in North Carolina. It has been corrected.

In response to the nationwide opioid epidemic, Gov. Roy Cooper teamed up with North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services this summer to create new standards for prescribing opioids.

As of Aug. 27, according to an announcement by the DHHS, “Prior approval is now required for opioid analgesic doses that exceed 120 mg of morphine equivalents per day, are greater than a 14-day supply of any opioid or are non-preferred opioid products on the North Carolina Medicaid Preferred Drug List.”

Ben Asma, the assistant director of Wellness and Prevention Services and a substance abuse counselor at Appalachian, is in charge of helping students with substance abuse problems.

“A lot of what we do here is heavily focused in motivational interviewing,” Asma said. “So it’s really coming from a place of non-judgment with unconditional positive regard and support for our students, meeting them where they’re at and helping them determine what they want.”

Wellness and Prevention Services uses standards set forth by the state and by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to diagnose whether or not a student has a substance use disorder, if a student identifies with a certain number of criteria on a list of things like the substance use getting in the way of their day-to-day lives, they are diagnosed with having a dependence on the substance.

The community of Appalachian State is largely unaffected by the opioid epidemic. However, after leaving the university area, Boone and the surrounding areas are fairly deep in poor living standards and apparent drug abuse.

“It’s like we are in a nice little bubble here and then when it comes to college, in general, alcohol and marijuana are your primary substances of abuse,” Asma said. “But, when it comes to the community here in rural and western North Carolina, we do have opioid problems and we have meth problems, they don’t frequently transfer or transcend into the university setting.”

Asma said he is optimistic about the results from the new regulations.

“Taking away accessibility is one of the primary ways you reduce substance abuse and so limiting what and how doctors prescribe and improving their prescribing practices, it will change the outcome,” Asma said. “Less students and less individuals in the community in general will have access to those substances, meaning they will probably not get involved in the use.”


Story by; Jackie Park, News Reporter