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According to Ncopioidsettlement.org, nearly 8 North Carolinians die daily from an opioid overdose. The Bladen County Substance Misuse Task Force announced at their meeting this week at Bladen Community College that deaths related to overdoses have increased dramatically.

Before the meeting started, a task force member was seen lighting a candle in memory of each life lost to overdoses in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

The lives were listed as:

2019 – 7 lives lost

2020 – 19 lives lost

2021 – 25 lives lost

After the lives lost were recognized, Charles Ray Peterson, chairperson of the task force, explained the task force was formed to create a group of community stakeholders and a plan to combat alcohol and drug addiction. Peterson called on Dr. Teresa Duncan, Bladen County Health and Human Resources Director, and Syd Wiford, a consultant with Addition Consulting Associates. The task force heard about the strategic plan in place to reduce deaths due to overdoses.

Wiford explained Bladen County had implemented the strategic plan. The county has been awarded the $2.76 million allocated from the $26 billion national opioid settlement.

The national opioid settlement comes from several lawsuits against U.S. drug companies for creating and worsening the opioid epidemic. Wiford explained the Opioid Settlement funds awarded to Bladen County would provide $2,746,233 ($152,568 average per year) over the next 18 years to fund Opioid specific services and programs within guidelines set up by the North Carolina Attorney General’s office.

Since 2017, the local task force has been hard at work collecting surveys and holding public meetings and focus groups to help with the strategic plan process.

The county has received other grant funds for the task force’s mission. Kate B. Reynolds Foundation awarded the county $157,500 for a needs assessment. In 2020 the county received $200,000 in grant funding from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) for a community paramedic program. In 2021 the county received a $1 million grant from the Human Resources Service Administration for a prevention program in schools and to hire a licensed addiction counselor. The county also received over $1.2 million in grants from local non-profits and other government agencies to reduce drug misuse and inform residents of the issues in Bladen County.

According to their reports, almost 2,200 residents need addiction rehabilitation or treatment.

Dr. Duncan stated, “I think we would be hard-pressed to find an individual in this county who has not been affected by substance misuse.”

During the meeting, Wiford stated three positions had been filled with grant funds at the local health department to help fight the opioid epidemic. She noted the community paramedic program was in place, but unfortunately, the funding ran out for that program.

Bladen County EMS Director, David Howell, gave a report of the Bladen EMS Overdose calls by location for 2021. According to the report Bladenboro area received the most calls with 25 overdoses, followed by Elizabethtown with 19, White Lake with 18, Clarkton with 12, Lisbon with three, Tar Heel with nine, and East Arcadia with two.

EMS has been trained on what to do with a patient who presents symptoms of a drug overdose and is, at times, able to revive the patient. The key is to prevent overdoses from happening.

Wiford said, “A recurring statement we heard across the county is, we don’t know where to get help. People don’t know who to reach out.”

Wiford announced Tamisha Purdie, BSW is the new Bladen County Health Department Resource Coordinator. Purdie can assist residents with contacting treatment programs, healthcare, housing needs, transportation, and more. She also reminded those in attendance of the resources available through Bladen County’s specialty care manager, Trillium Health Resources.

Wiford also mentioned Bladen County has a residential program for addiction for men. Rev. Kincy Barrow, Director of Southeastern Carolina Crossroads, notes the program is located in Elizabethtown to offer help and hope over addiction. During the meeting, discussions were made about more available grants and the task force applying for the grants to help reduce substance misuse in the county.

After the meeting, Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker explained that his staff is trained to assist residents with substance misuse issues. “I think it would be a good idea to have the next task force meeting at the Law Enforcement Center. We can host about 40 people.” In coordination with Dr. Cathy Gantz, former director of the task force, the Sheriff’s office went into churches during the COVID pandemic to give presentations and information about the opioid epidemic and the task force’s mission. The Sheriff explained that if we could host one of the task force meetings at the Law Enforcement Center, we could better communicate how we can work together to prevent substance misuse and the issues arising from the epidemic.

More work is to be done by the task force. The task force meetings are open to the public. The next task force meeting date and location has not been announced at this time.

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