Stimulus to boost food benefits 13.6 percent

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
Effective April 1, the people who receive Food and Nutrition Services through the Rowan County Department of Social Services will receive a 13.6 percent increase in benefits as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus package.
Using the $1,772,000 in Food and Nutrition Services benefits, formerly known as food stamps, distributed to Rowan County residents in January as an example, Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes said the approved increase would have amounted to $240,000 more funds.
“I think that’s very significant,” she told Rowan Board of Social Services members Tuesday night.
Also at the meeting, the board voted unanimously to appoint a subcommittee to address the growing problem of prescription drug abuse, particularly among youths. Former board chairman Jeff Morris made the request for a subcommittee on behalf of the Community Child Protection Team, which he now chairs.
Members of the team voted unanimously at their March 3 meeting to ask the Board of Social Services to appoint the subcommittee, and several volunteered to serve. Morris submitted a list of 21 people recommended for the subcommittee, including a doctor and pharmacist.
The problem of prescription drug abuse among teens has become a national epidemic, Morris said. “We have a mandate of protecting children,” he said of the Community Child Protection Team. “You all have a broader mandate, and there’s overlap here.”
Morris said he hopes local and state elected officials will get involved with the subcommittee, saying it could lead to legislation requiring better monitoring of prescriptions obtained by addicts and professional “doctor shoppers,” who obtain the drugs to sell on the streets.
While North Carolina has imposed restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter cold medication and materials used to manufacture methamphetamines, Morris said there is nothing in place to monitor prescriptions of highly abused pain medicine such as OxyContin and popular tranquilizers like Xanax.
Though he told Community Child Protection Team members that there was a computer prescription drug monitoring program already in place that doctors and pharmacists could check, Morris told Social Services board members that he found out the program only applies to Medicaid and Medicare recipients.
Without any kind of monitoring system in place for other patients, he said doctors and pharmacists have no way of identifying addicts unless they are visibly intoxicated.
Morris said doctor shoppers can spend $80 on a prescription of OxyContin, a potent painkiller, and sell the tablets on the street for $40 apiece. The problem could become even worse during the current recession, he said.
Appointing the subcommittee will “be a real asset and blessing to the community,” Morris said, “and hopefully to the state.”
Board member Jim Sides said it would be a good idea to present the idea of a statewide prescription drug monitoring system to the N.C. Board of Social Services and Social Services boards in other counties. “There’s power in numbers,” he said.
Board member John Blair said it would also be good to involve the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.
Board member Lillian Morgan referred to comments made by Tim Smith, director of student services for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, at the Community Child Protection Team meeting about the increasing number of student suspensions due to prescription drug abuse.
Morris said ordinary people can become addicted to prescription drugs, adding that one of his friends from high school died from an overdose of OxyContin.
“These are not people who can easily be stereotyped into your skid-row drunks,” he said. “These are not the heroin addict stereotypes that you see on TV. These are highly addictive drugs …”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.