Like any lengthy war, those who are involved in the battle against opioid abuse are fighting it on multiple levels.
On the local field, the battle plan involves three focus groups — those who are buying and using prescription pills or other opioids illegally, those who are illegally selling their legitimate prescriptions for profit, and health care providers who may be prescribing or filling too many prescriptions for opioids.
In the latter category are practices known as pill mills, a slang phrase used to refer to places where bad practitioners hand out prescription drugs indiscriminately. The phrase is used primarily now by law enforcement and can refer to doctors’ offices, clinics, or pharmacies prescribing or dispensing drugs for non-medical purposes.
According to local law enforcement, this is at least one area where Bladen County has good news.
“I don’t believe we have any pill mills in Bladen County,” said Richard Allen, narcotics investigator with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office. “That’s not the case everywhere.”
Bladen County may not have pill mills, but the county does have an abundance of pills. In the three-year span between 2010 and 2012, at least 52 people were admitted to the hospital with prescription opioid poisoning, and in 2016, there were 101.1 opioid pills prescribed per county resident. Bladen ranks 81st in the state — with one being the lowest — for number of opioid pills and 79th in the state for the number of opioid prescriptions written.
Though 101 pills per resident sounds like a lot, it doesn’t come near to meeting the demand, and dealers have to turn elsewhere. Known as sponsors, dealers find, mostly through mutual connections, someone who has an ailment for which they might be prescribed fentanyl, or oxycodone, or Opana — whatever the dealer is looking for. The dealer might initiate contact with the person and find out if he or she would be willing to be “sponsored.” Sponsoring someone might mean paying for his gas so he can go to the doctor or giving someone a meal as incentive.
“Whatever it takes — whatever you have to do or whatever you have to get them — you do, to make sure they can get the scrip,” said Gavin Kersey of Carolina Crossroads.
The ailing person goes to the doctor and obtains a prescription, bypassing insurance records by paying cash, and dealer pays the patient for the prescription and distributes the drug to his users.
It becomes an intercounty or interstate problem, however, when there are few doctors and providers in an area. “Doctor shopping” or “pharmacy shopping” requires people wanting drugs to expand their field and cross county or even state lines.
“I’m sure there are people going out of the county to buy drugs,” said Kersey.
Allen and Kersey both identified New Jersey as a state infamous for its supply of drugs, and Allen said local dealers travel to the Garden State, buy drugs, and bring them back to prey on the weak in Bladen County.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.