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Judy Klusman: Rowan County and opioids, a time for action

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Judy Klusman is a member of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

By Judy Klusman

Special to the Salisbury Post

In early 2017, the impact of the opioid epidemic was beginning to be seen and felt in Rowan County. In response, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners created an Opioid Planning Committee composed of local leaders from the health department, sheriff’s office, social services, emergency services, emergency medical services, Cardinal Innovations and commission. The focus of the committee is to develop action plans, provide opioid education and create an outlet where citizens feel safe to discuss this complicated and difficult issue.

Last Sunday’s Salisbury Post provided an introduction to North Carolina’s new Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act. This law is to help curb the amount of opioids a provider can prescribe a patient in a certain time frame. The law also requires providers and pharmacists to check the Controlled Substances Reporting System (CSRS). Every time an opioid prescription is written, it is entered into the CSRS. This allows providers and/or pharmacists to see if clients are going to several doctors or hospitals for the specific purpose of getting an opioid prescription.

This is an effective method, but there is still so much to do.

The overuse of opioids, such as prescription drugs OxyContin or Oxycodone or illegal drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, can cause the person to become addicted to them. An addiction is a chronic brain disease. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.

Like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Genetic risk factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction.

The Centers for Disease Control has found that drug-related deaths are now surpassing the number of deaths caused by shootings and fatal traffic accidents. From 2013 to 2015, the rate of medication or drug overdose deaths averaged 13.5 per 100,000 residents for North Carolina and 22.8 for Rowan.

The cost of opioid addiction to society is shocking. According to the CDC, the cost of opioid-related overdoses in North Carolina reached $1.3 billion in 2015. The cost of one overdose in our county can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

What is Rowan doing?

Medication take-back boxes: With the support of the state through the use of Healthy Communities funding, the Rowan County Health Department has been able to partner with local law enforcement to install 10 medication take-back boxes strategically around the county. The take-back boxes allow for citizens to dispose of their unused or unwanted medications safely. Through this community partnership and through local medication take-back events held throughout Rowan, over 2,000 pounds of medication has been collected since July, 2016.

Opioid forum: In August 2017, Rowan County put on its first opioid forum for government leaders, fire, EMS, law enforcement and attorneys. Education of these leaders was critical to begin the collaboration needed dealing with the seriousness of Rowan’s epidemic.

Rowan County Health Department’s standing order and distribution of Narcan: The Rowan County Health Department has created a standing order that allows this agency to distribute Narcan, also known as Naloxone. The county health director is offering this medication free of charge while supplies last.

If you come upon an overdose please call 911 immediately.

• Narcan Rescue Kits: The Health Department collaborated with Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, Daymark Recovery Services, Novant Health Rowan Medical and Rowan County Emergency Services to create a Narcan Rescue Kit. Narcan is used to reverse an opioid overdose. It has saved thousands of lives throughout North Carolina. The kits are currently offered free of charge at the Rowan County Health Department.

What comes next?

Community Forum No. 2:  The next county opioid forum will be this spring. We invite the Rowan County community to join us to have an open discussion and learn together how to best confront this difficult issue. More details will be provided at a later time.

Planning Committee work: The planning committee is looking at creative ways of providing addicts assistance instead of simply sending them to jail. We have traveled and talked with other counties and states to see what is working for them. Once we have several options we will see what will work best for Rowan.

As the opioid epidemic continues, the Rowan County commissioners will remain vigilant by continuing to address opioids and opioid-related issues. It’s not just the user who is impacted — their friends, family and Rowan County community members are all impacted in some way or another.

I am hoping that my appointment to the Cardinal Innovations Board will help put Rowan on the cutting edge of treatment and prevention. It will take our whole community’s determination, resources and creativity to bring down the use of opioids. The commission is counting on your help.

Judy Klusman is a member of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

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