After the opioid forum: Community leaders say collaboration is key to opioid problems

Published 12:05 am Sunday, May 20, 2018

By Shavonne Walker

The idea that it will take an entire community of people working together to combat the deadly issue of opioid use and overdoses is the attitude that experts and recovering addicts say will chip away at the the opioid epidemic.

Last week, nearly 200 people attended the second annual opioid forum held at the West End Plaza to learn from families impacted by the death of loved ones who died from overdoses and from experts in the fields about triggers and recovery options. Attendees also heard from journalist and author Sam Quinones about the national problems faced.

“People are more aware of the issue and they are starting to talk about it. The forum was a good example of how the Rowan County community is moving away from not talking about it to having open discussions,” said Public Health Director Nina Oliver.

She said this type of event, “helps to strengthen our community and helps rid the negative stigma addiction often has. We are on the right track but there’s a whole lot of hard work ahead of us,” she said.

In January to December 2016, there were 53 people diagnosed with opioids in their system who reported to the hospital emergency department and 163 from January to December 2017.

In 2017, the highest month for opioid diagnosed visits to the ER was August with 31 people. The months with the lowest number of visits to the ER were January, March, April and November, which all had less than 10 people.

Of the unintentional overdose deaths in Rowan County from 2012 to 2016, 61 percent were males, which is slightly lower than the state with 63 percent. In the county, 39 percent of overdose deaths were female, compared to 37 percent in North Carolina.

Between 2012 to 2016, 94 percent of overdose deaths in Rowan County were caucasian versus 85 percent in North Carolina. In the same four-year time frame, African Americans accounted for 6 percent of the deaths, compared to 11 percent in the state.

In 2012 to 2016, there were no reports of Asian, American Indian and Hispanic people who died in Rowan County of unintentional overdoses. In North Carolina, there were no reports of Asian people who unintentionally died and two percent of the deaths were among American Indian and Hispanic individuals.

“This forum made it very personal. The local folks that spoke. If you didn’t understand the pain that goes on in individuals and families you just don’t have a heart. It drives home the message that this isn’t just a Rowan County problem. This is a — national problem,” said County Commission Chairman Greg Edds.

After the forum, he said that there is an opportunity to reach out to communities beyond Rowan to find out what is working and what isn’t.

“I think there is a very strong momentum and desire on the part of government and private organizations that were there to very quickly meet and formulate a strong action plan,” Edds said.

He said they’ve spoken with several organizations that were there including Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, Rowan DSS and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to begin to think differently about some of those issues.

An opioid committee was formed in June 2017 and that committee helped form the first forum in August and last week’s event was most recent one. The committee meets monthly to discuss current projects, actions and possibilities.

Oliver said they received a lot of feedback from the public and there is a need to discuss potential possibilities. Some of the topics include expanding prescription drug take-back boxes. Currently, there are 12 in Rowan County. There is also a need for more education in the schools, churches and other similar places.

The community feedback also included training law enforcement on how to use Narcan/naloxone. The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office is looking into obtaining and training with Narcan kits.

Oliver said the committee also received information regarding research and the education of county leaders and stakeholders on the benefits of a needle exchange program. The community said Rowan County needs to create detox or treatment programs, create a funding post-overdose response teams.

The post-overdose response team is one whose members would go out to a person’s house that overdosed and was revived by Narcan to provide them with treatment, detox, and other assistance information.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.