“Everybody knows somebody that’s affected by this,” said Doyle Owen, whose son Brandon died by overdose earlier this year. “It’s not just the (dregs) of society that are hooked on opioids — it’s your lawyers, politicians, people that you’d never think.”
In a state leading the country in opioid abuse, Bladen County is not without problems, something Bladen County Assistant District Attorney Quentin McGee is seeing.
“We don’t see the level of overdoses they have in other counties,” he said, “but our big problem here is prescription pills. They haven’t transformed into heroin use, but they can be the precursor to it.”
So is Bladen County in “epidemic” status?
“The word ‘epidemic’ has medical origins,” explained Bladen County Health Director David Howard. “It means ‘something you can’t get your arms around and contain,’ and, in that sense, it’s very much an epidemic. We don’t know how many people are abusing opioids, or who or where they are. We haven’t gotten our arms around that.”
Of the 100 North Carolina counties, with one being the best, Bladen County ranks 79th in terms of the number of opioid prescriptions per resident — 1.315 per person in 2016. Only 19 other counties surpass the Mother County with regard to the number of pills per resident, as the county topped 100 pills per person in 2016. The statewide average is 78.3.
“We’re on the high side, and this is obviously a very serious issue,” Greg Martin, Bladen County manager, told leaders at a recent county forum on opioid abuse.
Owen’s mantra that everyone is affected in some way was repeated at Carolina Crossroads and among criminal justice and community leaders, who also voiced concern that people think it doesn’t affect them.
“Some people do have that response,” said McGee. “They say it’s not happening to my family.”
Such a belief, however, is erroneous, according to those closest to the epidemic. An Oct. 17 report by FoxNews estimated the opioid epidemic now kills more Americans each year than the Vietnam War and called it the “worst crisis in American history.”
“Even if it’s not happening in your house or family, when you have drug addicts in the community, they participate in property crimes to get items to pawn in order to feed their habit,” McGee offered. “You have folks using illicit drugs and engaging in prostitution, which bring communities down.”
Howard, whose very job requires him to look at health and its affect on the community, sees the big picture as well.
“This affects the local economy, and the attractiveness of the area to businesses, and whether or not they stay here and grow,” Howard said. “It affects the willingness of bright, talented young people to stay here and practice law or medicine.
“We’ve experienced ‘brain drain,’ if you will,” he added.
Howard may have been alluding to a 2016 meeting of the Lumber River Council of Governments, in which attendees learned that, of Bladen, Robeson, Hoke, Scotland and Richmond counties, the only one projected to see an increase in the next 20 years is Hoke County. Bladen County is expected to neither grow nor decline.
“If we want young people to stay, we’ve got to give them something to do,” Howard said.
“Opioid abuse is everyone’s problem,” McGee commented, “and we all need to care about it. The attitude that it doesn’t affect me, so I’m not going to care — if everyone exhibits that attitude, the problem will only continue to grow.
“Once people say this is me, this is my community, and I’ll do whatever it takes — once we have that attitude, we can start to affect real change,” he said.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.