Like the state, Sampson County’s opioid epidemic is steadily growing — pushing state and local law enforcement agencies to take action and put a stop to overdoses and misuse.
Information about Sampson County’s plan is just one of the many topics to be discussed in the SCOPE 4 Hope Opioid Summit being hosted by the Sampson County Substance Abuse Coalition Sept. 12.
According to Donald Edwards, chief of police for the Clinton Police Department, Sampson County’s opioid epidemic has taken a drastic turn upwards in the last few years, now joining the thousands of other counties across America facing the same problem.
“I believe most all of us agree that opioid abuse has a dramatic impact on the community,” Edwards said. “It affects much more than just the person. The family is often times the first to feel the effects, and this is far more than just financial.”
Through the department’s drug enforcement efforts, Edwards said his officers have started seeing pills becoming more prevalent.
“I think it wasn’t until just the last few years that we could recognize and relate this usage to that of heroin,” the chief explained. “It’s important to know that opioid abuse does not divide along any demographic line.”
An increase in the number of visits to the local emergency department that are related to unintentional opiate poisoning, and sometimes death, has lead local officers to carry Narcan, the drug used to counteract an overdose. According to Edwards, it was an overdose case in Clinton that pushed him to arm his officers with the reversal drug just over a year ago.
“We had three overdose cases within a week or so, and one resulted in a death,” Edwards said. “The Clinton Police Department decided then that if there is a way for us to protect or save a life, we would. Our partners at Eastpointe helped get the kits.”
According to Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton, in the third quarter of last year, there were four overdose deaths reported in Sampson County, and a reported 22 cases in the local emergency room.
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.
Like Thornton, Edwards said the exact number of overdoses is hard to determine, as many times information is left out when emergency calls are made.
“It is a challenge, making sure that we are providing the right help for individuals and recognizing it is a person we are dealing with,” Edwards explained.
The Department of Justice and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have proposed a reduction for controlled substances that may be manufactured in the U.S. next year. Local and state legislature is jumping on board.
For Edwards, the DEA’s approach is positive.
“Legislatures have taken some positive steps to help communities, one being the effort to reduce the amount of prescriptions issued,” Edwards said. “With stronger laws and community stakeholders working together in true partnership, we can affect change. The restriction on prescriptions is a good way to help reduce the number of pills available for abuse, but it’s only going to be one part of unified community effort.”
America’s government is working to cut the number of nationwide opioid prescriptions filled by one-third within the next three years by decreasing the amount of misused opioid manufactured.
The DEA has proposed to reduce more commonly prescribed schedule II opioids, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine, and fentanyl.
Additionally, Edwards acknowledges the need for medical attention and treatment, however, having the medications in someone’s home increases the opportunity for someone to access the drugs.
“No one wants to hurt, nor do we want our family member to be in pain,” Edwards explained. “So, we seek medications to alleviate it. When we have them in our home it makes it a risk for our children to access them. Whether it is the person prescribed the pill or someone who gets this easy access to them, the potential for addiction is there. I think it’s only been in the last 10 years or so that communities have recognized that this is a problem. And unlike heroin, cocaine, and meth, these drugs are on nearly everyone’s shelves.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.