Why can’t it just go away? The problem with eliminating opioids

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

While many people believe the opioid epidemic can be harnessed by simply cracking down on prescriptions, local leaders realize the solution isn’t that simple.

According to the latest U.S. census, 35,190 people live in the Mother County. A recent Castlight study showed that 11.6 percent of the people in Wilmington abuse opioids, and 7.9 percent of Fayetteville residents do so. If the numbers are averaged for Bladen County, lying right between the two, approximately 9.8 percent of Bladen County residents, or 3,448 people, are addicted to opioids.

Eliminating a drug on which nearly 3,500 people depend has some people questioning the wisdom of state legislators, who, earlier this year, passed legislation intended stem the tide. Requiring providers to participate in a database was passed in order to eliminate doctor shopping, and, beginning in July, 2018, initial opioid prescriptions will be limited to five days.

“Heroin is just going to become a bigger problem,” said Gavin Kersey, staff member at Carolina Crossroads, a Bladen County rehabilitation center.

Earlier drafts of the legislation proposed instituting the changes Jan. 1, 2018, but legislators altered the provision after pushback from state leaders who claimed they needed time and funding to institute programs for the current drug abusers.

Even with additional time, counties like Bladen are left wondering how to meet an inevitable crisis. At issue for Bladen County, in addition to the possibility of users turning to heroin, is the availability of substance abuse treatment for those who want to kick the habit when supply runs out next year. For months, county commissioners have been in discussions with Eastpointe, the managed care company with which Bladen County contracts for mental health services. Eastpointe’s web site shows the company has one site in Bladen County — Sandhills Behavioral Health in Elizabethtown — to serve adults struggling with substance abuse.

“We have a lot of addicts, with nowhere to treat them,” said John Stoll, pharmacist and owner of Clarkton Drug.

On an even more scopious scale, leaders must consider how to keep people from returning to drugs if they get off of them. David Howard, director of the Bladen County Health Department, believes the problem needs to be addressed from a ecological standpoint.

“You can’t fix a drug problem without fixing lives and prospects and job opportunities,” he commented, adding evidence-based programs like mentoring cost little money and improve the hopeful outlook of children who might turn to drugs because of a perceived hopeless future.

Linda Armstrong, mother of an opioid addict, agrees.

“There’s no work, nothing else, for these kids to get involved in,” she said. “If they don’t have anything else to do, they’re going to go out there and start using pills.”

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal