While communities are still trying to get their arms around the opioid crisis, several efforts have already been undertaken that will affect the impact of pain pills on Bladen County.
Earlier this year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Strengthen Opioid Prevention (S.T.O.P) Act, an omnibus bill designed to approach the opioid epidemic on all fronts.
The 10-page law, while multifaceted in its approach, focuses largely on cracking down on opioid prescriptions. Beginning in July 2018, initial opioid prescriptions will be limited to a five-day supply, except post-operatively, which will be limited to a seven-day initial supply.
“So many of the men who come in here got addicted to opioids when they were given a bottle of 60 pills, and they didn’t even need one,” Chestnutt explained. “Anything they can do to cut down on the number of pills out there would be a good thing.”
The S.T.O.P Act also requires prescribers and pharmacists to participate in a controlled substance reporting system. Currently, a database exists, but participation is voluntary for some providers, so not all participate. Further contributing to the problem are handwritten prescriptions, which can be forged and the fact that veterinarians, who use opioids to sedate large animals, currently do not have to use the reporting system. Compulsory reporting that eliminates handwritten prescriptions and includes veterinarians will begin Jan. 1, 2018.
The database, however, is only statewide, and naysayers claim those who want pills badly enough will just travel out of state to get them.
“We’re going to have to seek federal funds somehow,” said Clarkton Drug pharmacist John Stoll. “That’s something I’d like to see the forum look into — federal grants so that we can access a centralized database.”
The forum to which Stoll alluded is Bladen County’s local plan of attack. Formed in July, the Leadership Forum on Opioid Abuse — formed at the behest of the county commissioners — consists of county leaders from law enforcement, criminal justice, health, mental health, education, and media fields, along with elected officials. The group held a planning meeting in July and met again in October, holding round-table discussions about opioids in the county.
Out of it has come the general consensus that, while heroin tends to be the end result of an opioid addiction — because of its lower price and greater euphoria — the problem has not yet reached that level in Bladen County, and the main issue in the Mother County appears to be prescription pills.
Still, participants are eager to nip things in the bud.
“I don’t know of any other county that’s doing something like this,” said McGee, a participant in the forums.
The forum is scheduled to meet again mid-November.
Information gleaned from the gatherings may be used to determine what will be done with funding coming down the pipeline. As part of the S.T.O.P. Act, the General Assembly earmarked $10 million for health departments, to be used for the treatment of opioid addiction. While it’s not known when the money will be disbursed to local departments, the one stipulation of the funds is that they cannot be used for treatment centers already in existence.
In addition to participating in the countywide forums, the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office is also taking steps of its own to combat the opioid epidemic. While narcotics investigator Richard Allen didn’t want to divulge too much information about the office’s efforts, he did encourage residents to take part in the process.
“We really want to encourage people to use our tip line,” Allen remarked. “It’s anonymous, and it’s the best way for us to be aware of problems with drug abuse.”
The tip line can be reached by calling 910-874-8124.
Allen also stated the department would “go to any lengths possible” to get help for someone who wanted it.
This summer, the Sheriff’s Office set up a medication dropbox, where residents can dispose of extra medication like opioids safely and permanently. The box is located at the Sheriff’s Office on Smith Circle in Elizabethtown.
Regardless of what method Bladen County ends up utilizing in its efforts to combat opioid addiction, one thing is certain, according to most county leaders.
“We didn’t get in this situation overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it overnight,” said Bladen County Health Director David Howard.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.