RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) --The White House and the Department of Justice in North Carolina are drawing attention to prescription opioid and heroin use, calling the problem an "epidemic."
President Barack Obama has declared this week "Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week."
The Department of Justice in North Carolina said Monday that the issue is just as big a problem for the state as it is for the nation and announced it would pool its resources to combat the problem.
"In North Carolina every year, more deaths now result from drugs, than from motor vehicle crashes or from firearms, and again, most of those drug deaths are from heroin or opioid abuse," said John Bruce, United States Attorney for North Carolina's Eastern District.
According to the DOJ, there have been 3,084 overdose deaths in North Carolina from 1999 to 2014, with more than 1,100 of those deaths happening between 2012-2014 alone.
The DOJ announced the creation of a new "Federal Opioid Reduction Alliance for North Carolina," across all the state's district offices for more law enforcement and prosecution when it comes to opioid prescriptions and heroin, and called it priority No. 1.
"It's about the top priority," Bruce said. "It's definitely the most serious drug problem and I indicated earlier these drugs, deaths, overdose deaths, eclipse things like motor vehicle crashes and firearms deaths, so there could hardly be a higher priority for us."
DOJ officials are pointing to prescription drugs and synthetic opioids, such as Fentanyl, as the "gateway" to heroin use and addiction.
The number of written prescriptions have jumped from 76 million in 1991 to 259 million in 2012, enough for every adult in America to have a bottle of prescriptions pills, according to state assistant attorneys.
Bruce said the drug addiction problem knows no bounds when it comes to age, gender, race and socio-economic status.
The NC DOJ is inviting the public to join it, local law enforcement and community leaders for a town hall to gather feedback on their strategies, this Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Pullen Park in Raleigh.
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