Sampson Independent

Opiates: a growing epidemic

Millions of prescribed opiates are legally placed into the hands of Sampson County residents every year. While the state has developed the Opioid Action Plan as a way to combat the opioid crisis, locally, private and government agencies are hosting an opioid summit to provide public awareness of the growing issue.

The Sampson County Substance Abuse Coalition is hosting a community-wide drug summit, S.C.O.P.E (Sampson County Opioid Prevention and Education) 4 Hope, Wednesday, Sept. 12, from 8:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center.

“The purpose of the summit is to provide public awareness of resources available to prevent and treat opioid misuse, to highlight programs across the state and nation that are helping people living with opioid use disorder, and to provide training to area professionals who want to help those with substance use disorders,” BG Kennedy, Sampson County Substance Abuse Coalition member, said.

According to Sarah Bradshaw, director of the Sampson County Department of Social Services, opioids far too often go from a necessary medication to being misused and the object of addiction. For that reason, event organizers are hoping to draw a wide variety of audience members to the summit, including the general public seeking to learn more about the growing problem with opiates.

In Sampson County, an average of 84.4 opiate pills are prescribed per person each year (based on the total number of residents per capita) — a number that is higher than the statewide average of 78.3 pills per person.

An opiate is the umbrella which covers a broad category, including medication used to treat pain and heroin use. Examples of legally prescribed opiates are hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone and other generic names like Lortab, Vicodin and Percocet.

According to statistics provided through the Sampson County Health Department and the North Carolina Injury and Violence Prevention Branch of the N.C. Department of Mental Health, between 2011-2016, more than 27 million opioid pills were dispensed from pharmacies in Sampson County. In 2017, 3,257,000 opioid pills were added to that number. Across North Carolina in 2017, nearly 530 million opiates were dispensed.

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.

According to Bradshaw, many people are finding themselves becoming addicted to the opiate medications, which eventually leads to misuse or the unintentional overdose and death.

In 2016, there were eight reported unintentional opiate poisoning deaths in Sampson County, which finds itself surrounded by counties with much higher numbers. During that same year, Cumberland County reported 45, Duplin County reported one, Johnston County reported 15, Pender County reported 14 and Wayne County reported 16. The county with the highest number of reported unintentional opiate poisoning deaths was Mecklenburg, which reported 115.

Between January and December 2017, there were 240 reported overdoses in the Emergency Department at the hospital. According to NC Detect, 198 of those were from medications or drugs, 22 from opiates, 13 from heroin and seven from benzodiazepine.

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 brings more drugs into Sampson County, increasing the likelihood of drug abuse and overdose deaths.

At one time, Wilmington, Jacksonville and Fayetteville — all within an hour and a half drive from Sampson — were listed among the top 25 cities for opioid abuse.

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.

However, according to information on the N.C. Opioid Action Plan Data Dashboard, there were no reported community Naloxone reversals in Sampson County in 2017.

Registration can be done online at Lunch will be provided with registration.

Sampson drug summit to spread awareness, offer help

By Kristy D. Carter

S.C.O.P.E 4 Hope Opioid Summit

When: Sept. 12, 8:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Where: Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center

Free and open to the public

Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.