The Aetna Foundation said 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 with an initial $1 million grant going to the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC).

The grant will go to the NCHRC Rural Opioid Overdose Prevention Project.

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 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.”

Governor Roy Cooper said fighting the opioid crisis in NC was one of his priorities during a talk at the NC CEO Forum Healthcare Summit in Raleigh Monday.

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 is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna (NYSE:AET).