RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Thursday is International Overdose Awareness Day, a global effort aimed at raising awareness of the growing issue of drug addiction.
According to a report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 4,243 North Carolinians died of suspected drug overdoses in 2022, representing a 7% increase from the year before, and a nearly 58% increase compared to 2019, the last full year prior to the pandemic.
Inside the Pecan Hickory Room at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, advocates, family members of victims, and those in recovery held an event highlighting resources and discussing ideas to reverse the trends.
"Right now we have the opiates settlement money, and we have all kinds of different ways that we can get funding. And I would really like to see it go to places for treatment because we've recently had several things close. And we should be adding things," said Freida MacDonald, a Triangle mother whose 24-year-old son Michael died of an overdose in 2016.
MacDonald's older son was shot and killed, a tragedy which she said led Michael to use harder drugs, including opiates and heroin. Following Michael's death, she left a career in banking and started a non-profit called Know Hope North Carolina, which assists those struggling with addiction.
"After I lost both of my sons, a lot of their friends started coming to me and just opening up. They trusted me not to judge them and telling me that they were struggling. And so I ended up taking them to detox and taken them to recovery houses," said MacDonald, who set up three banners at Thursday's event, each with the pictures and names of 100 people who died from overdoses.
Like MacDonald, Chandler Picot said he believes it's important to share his experiences. Picot, originally from Greenville, struggled with addiction for a dozen years and is now in long-term recovery.
"I almost died multiple times. And I was saved, thank goodness, and due to all this pain, torment, experience, I always told myself if I could help someone else out I will. Because I didn't want anybody to go through what I went through without having the help if I had only known sooner," said Picot, who is now a peer support specialist and certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor.
He's troubled by the worsening trends, calling for legislators to take greater measures to address overdose deaths.
"We need something now because people are dying. I think we've lost the urgency to do something different, right? People have become accustomed to this level of death. This is an epidemic, and we need to raise awareness. We need people to participate, to reach out, to find out how can they connect," Picot noted.
Picot supports expanding the state's Good Samaritan Law, to try to provide greater protection and encourage more people to call for help.
This summer, Gov. Roy Cooper signed HB 190 into law, which allows for the creation of mobile opioid treatment programs.
MacDonald, who now works at the Alcohol and Drug Council of North Carolina as a recovery resource advocate, noted the increasing attendance at rallies during the years, as support grows to confront the issue.
"When I see all these folks come together for that and the numbers are growing, there's more awareness, there are more resources that to offer with the tables that the people that come out. And it just makes me feel like that we are getting somewhere and that is helping us with the stigma and with people not giving the attention that they need when they need it," said MacDonald.