The number of unintentional opioid overdose deaths in North Carolina has dropped for the first time in five years. 

Opioid fatalities decreased by 5 percent in 2018. That number may seem like a huge drop, but it's a sharp contrast to 2017. That year, opioid-related deaths climbed by more than a third, according to data collected by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Emergency visits for opioid-related overdoses also declined, by about 10 percent.

Gov. Roy Cooper called the decline a major milestone. Lawmakers and the governor's office have worked in recent years to address the overdose crisis.  

State health researchers blame a spike in prescription opioids for fueling the rise in unintentional fatalities in the 2000s. Those numbers dropped off in recent years. But a surge in fatal overdoses from illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl more than made up for the decline. 

An estimated 1,785 North Carolinians died from opioid overdoses in 2018, according to preliminary data. In 2017, there were 1,884.

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