Community gathers to address opioid crisis

Published 10:59 am Friday, October 4, 2019

Sheriff Jeff Crisco did not mince words on the opioid crisis Thursday, saying if the county couldn’t find a way to combat the crisis,”it’s going to ruin us.”

Crisco was one of four panelists at an opioid discussion at First Presbyterian Church in Albemarle.

The other panelists were Monarch peer navigator Marcus Berry, community paramedic Ashley Hernandez and public health education specialist Wendy Growcock.

Throughout much of the past year, Stanly has had the highest rate of opioid overdoses per capita in the state.

“For a small community we have very substantial overdose numbers,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez has seen people come from as far as Wrightsville and Raleigh to Stanly because the county “is the place to go to get good drugs.”

She said Stanly EMS dealt with four overdoses Thursday.

Though the paramedics administer Narcan, also known as Naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses if administered quickly enough, many people have been recently using opioids laced with fentanyl, making them more dangerous and deadly.

“The severity of the overdoses is changing because these drugs are changing,” Hernandez said.

One issue has been the easy accessibility of drugs over the years.

A recent analysis of a Drug Enforcement Administration database revealed there were almost 22 million prescription pain pills supplied to Stanly County from 2006 to 2012.

“We can’t arrest our way out,” Crisco said.

The sheriff said it is a mental health problem.

“We are truly trying to fight this by being more proactive than this county has probably ever seen,” he said.

There are many efforts across the community to help combat the problem.

The health department recently received a $1 million grant to help with the opioid crisis. The grant will be implemented over a three-year period, which started last month and runs through Aug. 31, 2022.

More than $400,000 is budgeted for medical services and supplies. Another $305,000 will go to behavioral health services and almost $118,000 to behavioral health prescriptions.

The grant also funds a staff member for both the Gateway of Hope Addiction Recovery Center and Will’s Place.

The health department is working with the community to implement Naloxone and CPR trainings which will be conducted at Will’s Place. Upon completion, people can receive Naloxone kits

The department is also working with the school system for life skills training for middle and high school students and is trying to get more community members involved in Project Lazarus.

Project Lazarus is a group comprised of public health, health care, law enforcement, mental health personnel and concerned citizens to combat drug abuse.

Growcock also said the health department received a five-year, $1.255 million Partnership for Success Grant from the Center for Prevention Services in Charlotte.

Among other things, the grant will help administer a Youth Drug Survey next Spring for sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth graders in the county; will allow teachers and counselors to be trained in an evidence-based Life Skills Training program, which will teach prevention-related information and teach drug refusal skills; will add a youth coalition component to Project Lazarus; and will allow medical providers to receive information about chronic pain management techniques that reduce the use of opioids and decrease subsequent dependence.

Thanks to a $400,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield grant, Stanly County EMS began its community paramedic program in May.

The community paramedic members are part of a post-overdose response team that functions as a bridge, initially treating opioid patients with Narcan and then transporting them to the Monarch behavioral health clinic.

As Monarch peer navigator, Berry, a former addict, works with paramedics and provides support to overdose survivors, including sharing some of his personal history with them.

“I’ve been here and I know how you feel and what you’re going through,” Berry said he tells them.

At Monarch, opioid patients go through medical-assisted treatment, where they receive Suboxone, a medication which suppresses withdrawal symptoms, and work with Berry, who helps them along their path to recovery.

The patients work with a treatment team consisting of a physician, nurse, targeted case manager, medical assistant and therapist that supports them throughout their journey.

Hernandez said the community paramedic program has helped transport eight patients to the Monarch clinic.

She also announced that as of Friday, the community paramedics could administer Suboxone to patients before transporting them to Monarch.

The Sheriff’s Office created a drug interdiction team, consisting of three deputies, to try and stop drugs from coming into the county.

Crisco also started a rehabilitative program for inmates struggling with addiction called Safer Communities Ministry in August. It is based on a similar program in Union County.

Crisco said the Sheriff’s Office has been in communication with one officer from each law enforcement agency in the county to make sure every agency is networking and communicating.

Their goal is to detain drug dealers that are entering the county.

“We want to cut the snake’s head off,” he said.

With the help of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, Crisco said the county has federally indicted several drug dealers since the beginning of the year, though he could not disclose the exact number.

Though opioids affect all people, Growcock said the people most likely to be addicted are white men ages 20 to 35.

Several people in the audience spoke about the urgency and need to find ways to help combat the problem.

“I do believe that…we’re not leading in North Carolina,” said Brad Kimrey, when talking about the state consistently ranked as the No. 1 county for overdose rates. “We’re losing in North Carolina.”

He said he struggled with addiction, referring to it as a “demon” rather than a “disease.”

Crisco asked the audience to contact the Sheriff’s Office if they see something out of the ordinary or know of someone struggling with addiction — even if they do so anonymously.

Each of the panelists acknowledged it will take a community-wide effort to combat the problem.

“It’s imperative that we work as a team,” Crisco said. “We have to.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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