Opioid abuse continues to be a serious problem in Sampson and surrounding counties, and the growing availability of those drugs is contributing to the epidemic of abuse and overdoses.
For that reason, the Sampson County Substance Abuse Coalition has plans to host a community-wide drug summit Wednesday, Sept. 12, from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center.
According to B.G. Kennedy, coalition member and one of the organizers of the event, the purpose of the summit is to provide the public with resources available to prevent and treat opioid misuse, highlight programs across the state and nation that are helping those living with the opioid use disorder and to provide training to area professionals who want to help those living with a substance use or abuse disorder.
“The goal of the coalition is to provide education about the dangers of addiction and support to families of those dealing with addiction,” Kennedy explained.
Not only is Sampson County among the counties with the highest number of drug-related deaths, but it is surrounded by some of the worst cities in America for opioid abuse, according to data gathered from research on employer-based insurance. Its central location to these cities bring more drugs into Sampson County, increasing the likelihood of drug abuse and overdose deaths.
Listed among the top 25 cities for opioid abuse are Wilmington, Jacksonville and Fayetteville — all within an hour and a half drive from Sampson.
Just three years ago, Sampson County had nearly 50 unintentional medication or drug poisoning deaths and 40 prescription opioid poisoning deaths. In line with Robeson County, Sampson had the highest number of overdose deaths in 2014 among all 100 of North Carolina’s counties.
An opiate is the umbrella which covers a broad category and includes pills and pain relievers and heroin. Examples of an opiate are hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone and other generic names like Lortab, Vicodin and Percocet.
Opiates are highly addictive. Individuals not only develop a psychological dependence and euphoric high, but they are physically addictive.
The user can experience physical withdrawals after discontinued use that can last several days to weeks, that include flu like symptoms of nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, yawning, diarrhea, fever, sweating, dilated pupils, insomnia and a runny nose.
Signs of an overdose are slow to no breathing, slow or no pulse, blue or gray skin, blue or purple fingertips and lips and the person is unresponsive. Health care officials urge anyone who encounters someone experiencing an overdose to immediately administer Naloxone and call for emergency assistance.
“You, your family members or caregivers should know more about ways to prepare, act and respond to an opioid overdose in the event an emergency occurs,” Wanda Robinson, Sampson County Health Department director, said.
Along with the state of North Carolina, local law enforcement and medical personnel in Sampson County are trying to curb the amount of medication being dispensed.
CSRS (Controlled Substance Reporting System) is a system that monitors the kind and amount of pain medication prescribed to each individual. While using the system isn’t mandatory, it is highly encouraged for prescribers to check before prescribing any pain medication to patients.
On the flip side, the limited access to prescriptions is driving more people to the black market to purchase prescriptions, or heroin when other drugs are not readily available.
In conjunction with the state’s initiative, the local police department has a medication drop box that is available for medication disposal seven days a week. This allows for expired and unused medicines to be properly disposed of and kept from the hands of someone who could possibly overdose.
Addiction often begins after a person is prescribed pain medication for a legitimate surgery or injury. As the person takes the medication, their tolerance level increases, leading them to require more medication to get the same feeling as the first time the drug was used. Once doctors cut off the prescription, individuals often resort to buy pills and heroin off the street.
Several agencies are partnering together to raise awareness in Sampson County. Local faith-based, private and government agencies have joined forces with the Sampson County Substance Abuse Coalition, which is comprised of multiple community agencies and stakeholders and meets monthly, to host the summit. Donald McDonald from Recovery Communities of North Carolina will be the guest speaker at September’s event.
Local law enforcement, first responders and probation officers are being trained in crisis intervention to help prevent unintentional overdoses from leading to death. Additionally, Project Lazarus is a grant that Sampson County received and in collaboration with the health department will offer Narcan/Naloxone, a drug used to stop overdosing deaths from happening.
Registration will take place beginning at 9 a.m. on the day of the event. Lunch will be provided for the first 500 people registered for the event.