Majority of Americans have been affected by addiction; most haven't sought help

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BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
Majority of Americans have been affected by addiction
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Staring at a photo of nearly 30 family members, it's not hard for Morgan Coyner to see the impact addiction has had on three generations.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Staring at a photo of nearly 30 family members, it's not hard for Morgan Coyner to see the impact addiction has had on three generations.

"Every single person in this photo was affected," Coyne said. "There's a whole generation of kids who won't remember my mom."

Coyner's mother died a few years ago from a fentanyl overdose.

"My mom was goofy. I mean, she had the best smile. She loved her family and her friends. She loved to dance," Coyner remembered.

But that's not how she was before her death.

SEE ALSO | Record-high drug overdose deaths in North Carolina

"She was isolated. She wasn't very smiley. She wasn't really engaged in her life at all, and we didn't really know why," Coyner said.

While her mother struggled with various mental health issues, Coyner said they found out after her death that she had been addicted to opioids for 12 years after a knee replacement surgery.

"She also had access to psychiatric medication like benzodiazepines. So Xanax, Ambien, and ultimately it was the Xanax mixed with the fentanyl that killed her," she said.

Stories like Coyner's are on the rise since the pandemic with overdose deaths nationwide reaching a record last year.

SEE ALSO | 'Something's got to be done.' Grieving father sounds alarm on North Carolina's fentanyl crisis

A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll released Tuesday gives more insight into that widespread struggle.

Two out of three adults in the U.S. said they have been impacted by addiction either personally or through a family member.

While the top substance was alcohol, a third of adults said the addiction was related to opioids. The poll revealed these addictions have negatively impacted family relationships, mental health and financial situations.

The KFF poll found opioid addictions were more prevalent in rural areas and with white adults. However, rural areas tend to be the same spot that lacks treatment resources.

"A couple of years ago, I was out in the western part of the state and I think they said there was like one detox facility that was shared by 19 counties. That's unacceptable," Coyner said.

SEE ALSO | Children under 5 are increasingly victims of opioid epidemic, study finds

One of the most alarming findings from the poll was while a majority of adults have been impacted by addiction, a majority have also not received treatment for their addiction.

After her mother's death, Coyner threw herself into advocacy work related to addiction.

"At the time I was working at a women's treatment center and I saw my mom's face in every woman that walked in. So how could I walk away from you know, the moment that fundamentally changed my life as a person? I couldn't," she said.

Coyner is now the executive vice president of Addiction Professionals North Carolina and helps connect resources and workers to communities in need.

Her team's work seeks to reduce some of the barriers people face when considering treatment.

"No one should have to not get treatment because they can't afford it," she said. "This is life or death."

In addition to cost, a lack of workforce continues to be a big problem. It's one that Addiction Professionals North Carolina is working with the state health department and lawmakers to address.

"The increased demand is something like we've never seen. And so I just don't think we were prepared for what it was going to look like," she said.

Coyner's team is also advocating for bills to protect patients against unethical providers and to force insurance providers to treat substance use and mental health the same as physical health

The KFF poll also reported that half of the respondents were worried that someone in their family would experience addiction or a major mental health crisis.

Coyner said to combat this, the state needs to work to fund and offer preventative care.

"It's something that has not been talked about as much recently because we're so busy mitigating the harm done by overdose and by addiction. But there is a whole evidence-based field that knows how to stop this before it happens," Coyner said.

She is hopeful that Medicaid expansion and opioid settlement money will help more people in need.

Coyner is working with communities on how to best spend the $1.5 billion the state is expected to receive. You can find more about these efforts here.