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Bladen County conducts opioid forum

By Erin Smith

Opioid addiction is claiming more and more lives each day. Elected officials, members of law enforcement, EMS, Bladen County Schools staff and faculty, Bladen Community College staff, business leaders, Bladen County commissioners, members of the judicial system, and members of the community gathered at Bladen Community College to discuss the opioid epidemic.

The forum featured sobering statistics as well as information on access to care for substance abuse. David Howard, director of Bladen County Health and Human Services, said that in 2005 there were no deaths in Bladen County related to opioid use. In 2015, Bladen County had 15 deaths due to overdoses.

Howard said people lose their jobs, lose their income, lose their home and lose their family. The scourge of addiction also places a burden on the hospital system and there are increased safety concerns as well.

The forum also featured several speakers who presented various topics and information to those in attendance. Karen Salacki with Eastpointe MCO said most deaths from overdoses are accidental.

Richard Allen with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office said heroin is mainly grown in Afghanistan and takes three months from planting to processing. He said there are three ways an addict will ingest heroin. Allen said they will inject it, smoke it or snort it.

He said addicts will eventually suffer side effects from their drug use such as abscesses forming on the skin from injecting heroin, weight loss, tooth decay and dark spots under their eyes. Allen said 14,000 people died from heroin overdoses in 2015.

“Prescription pills are what we deal with the most,” said Allen.

He added a lot of people are selling their prescription medications in order to pay their bills.

Allen said prescription drug abuse, which includes opiates, impacts employment, kidney failure, heart failure, liver failure and death. He said 10 classmates he attended high school with have died as a result of overdoses.

He said 1 in 5 teens abuse pain medication; 1 in 10 have abused cough syrup; and 1 in 5 have abused steroids.

“The reason I am here is to fight this. I hope from this we can create a task force so we can move forward,” said Allen.

Rebecca Hester, owner of the Medicine Shoppe in Bladenboro, gave a presentation on the brain and how addiction affects it. She said that each time an addict gets high, it affects the pleasure center of the brain. This creates pathways and the brain processes and organizes these pathways in an order of importance. She said the longer a person has been addicted, the harder it is to forget it.

Janet Miller with the Bladen County Department of Social Services said addiction impacts about 17 percent of the reports of child abuse or neglect received by their Child Welfare Unit. She said most of the cases involving parents who are struggling with addiction generally have safety issues for the child such as needles left exposed and the children growing up watching their parents abusing drugs.

“Older adults also suffer when their adult children become addicts,” said Miller. She said what happens often is the older adult’s medication disappears because of the child’s addiction and the older adult doesn’t have what is needed to treat ailments.

She also said there are food services programs which a person who has a conviction is not eligible to receive. Also, Work First requires participants to pass drug tests.

Richard Berg with CCNC said they began working on the issue of opioid safety in 2012 with the creation of the Project Lazarus program. He said they have conducted more than 17 Lunch and Learn sessions with primary care providers. He said they also provide tool kits for opioid safety.

Both the Bladenboro Police Department and the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office are carrying Narcan kits. Bladen County EMS Director David Howell said his staff has written a protcol for the Bladenboro Police Department which was approved by the Department of Health and Human Services. Howell said they have also provided training to the Bladenboro PD.

Howell said EMS has seen an increase in opioid overdoses in recent years and they, too , carry Narcan as does the Elizabethtown Fire Department. He said the Ammon Volunteer Fire Department is beginning to train on the application and use of Narcan.

Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor said the school system has not seen a lot of drug activity. He said the school system has a partnership with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office and they periodically bring their dogs in to East Bladen and West Bladen high schools and conduct searches for drugs. He also said the school system conducts a drug awareness week to educate students about the dangers of drug abuse. When asked about whether or not the board fears litigation or reprisal if they discipline a child, Taylor said no.

Taylor said students do share information with school officials and their privacy is guaranteed. He added that if a student is experiencing a problem, the school system owes it to the student to get them help.

Dr. Roxie Wells of Cape Fear Valley-Bladen Healthcare said addiction impacts the hospital and clinic with patients showing aggression when the physicians refuse to reissue prescriptions or reduce the amount of medication the person is taking. There are also safety concerns when there is a drug-related shooting and the victim is brought to the hospital for treatment.

Bladen County Assistant District Attorney Quentin McGee said southeastern North Carolina accounts for a large percentage of the overdoses in North Carolina. He said 210 million prescriptions are being written.

McGee said, “We cannot arrest our way out of this.” He said there needs to be more treatment options.

Doyle Owen shared his heartbreaking story of his son, Brandon Owen, who struggled with addiction which began while he was in high school and eventually led to his death.

Bladen County Commissioner Arthur Bullock, who attended the meeting, said it is a cycle which needs to be broken. “We need to get some type of treatment or some agency that can provide treatment,” said Bullock.

He explained that an addict can be arrested and spend 60 days in jail but when he returns home, the addict will start using again. Bullock said the addict is arrested again and spends 90 days in jail and returns home and returns to his old lifestyle and the pattern continues until the addict finally seeks help or something else occurs.

David Howard, director of the Bladen County Department of Health and Human Services, said the purpose behind the forum is to create some type of plan to combat addiction to opioids.

The forums were designed at the behest of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, who provided a format and other materials to the county for the forum.

The forum will continue and a future date is expected to be announced soon.

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