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Aetna Foundation to Support States in Fight against the Opioid Epidemic

February 13, 2018 | Pharmacy

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition to receive first grant from $6 million national program

RALEIGH, N.C. – According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 42,000 Americans die each year from opioid overdoses. While opioid abuse is widespread across the country, certain communities and states have been particularly hard hit. In response, the Aetna Foundation today announced that it will provide grants totaling $6 million to fund select projects that state and local leaders have identified as promising, or particularly well-suited to tackle the most critical opioid-related challenges.

The Aetna Foundation’s initial $1 million grant will be given to the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) for its Rural Opioid Overdose Prevention Project. The grant will be announced formally today in Raleigh at an event with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

“While this is a national health crisis, there is no single solution that can be applied across the country,” said Harold L. Paz, M.D., M.S., member of the Aetna Foundation Board of Directors. “These grants will provide important resources to empower local communities to address the unique characteristics of the opioid-related problems they are facing.”

In 2010, drug overdoses overtook motor vehicle crashes to become the leading cause of injury death in North Carolina. An average of four people a day died from drug overdoses in North Carolina in 2016, according to the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics.

“There’s no question that rural communities in North Carolina have been especially hit hard by this epidemic,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. “There are far too many tragic stories of lives being lost and families bearing the burden. North Carolina Harm Reduction has been doing excellent work to confront these challenges. I am grateful to Aetna for supporting North Carolina Harm Reduction to save lives in North Carolina communities.”

NCHRC’s Rural Opioid Overdose Prevention Project works to prevent opioid deaths by providing community-level risk education in five rural counties in North Carolina: Brunswick, Cumberland, Haywood, Johnston and Vance. The initiative also distributes naloxone overdose-reversal kits to rural, high-risk opioid users, and promotes adoption of best practice policies on overdose prevention by law enforcement and health care professionals.

“This program will be one of the first of its kind to address the unique challenges that rural communities are facing with regards to the opioid crisis,” says NCHRC executive director Robert Childs. “We are excited and honored to be part of this important, life-saving work.”

The Aetna Foundation will be announcing grants to other organizations in additional states over the next several months as part of its mission of Building Healthy Communities by supporting locally based programs, dynamic partnerships, and proven models that can help accelerate progress everywhere.

“For the first time in our history, our children’s generation is not expected to live as long as our own. That is due in large part to the epidemic of opioid abuse, which presents a clear and present threat to our communities and health care resources,” said Dr. Garth Graham, president of the Aetna Foundation and vice president of Community Health for Aetna. “The innovative work that the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition is doing on the ground is promising, and it’s our hope that it can also offer a road map for outreach in other rural communities.”

About the Aetna Foundation

The Aetna Foundation is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna (NYSE:AET). As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who volunteered 430,000 hours in 2016 alone. For more information, visit

Media Contact:

Ethan Slavin