GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The Opioid epidemic facing many communities in the East came center stage Monday during an addiction summit at ECU’s Heart Institute.
Led by doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement from several counties in the East, the goal was to bring the community together to brainstorm solutions to the problem.
According to the North Carolina Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, drug poisoning deaths now exceeds car deaths in North Carolina. In fact, every day three people die in the state from an Opioid overdose.
“What’s going to make it go away is having a community solution,” said Doctor Kerry Willis, who practices family medicine in Carteret County.
Willis, like many doctors, is now under increased pressure to track what prescriptions are given to which patients to try to prevent over-prescribing medicine. He said the number of people willing to lie to get medicine from different doctors makes that task more difficult.
North Carolina lawmakers passed the STOP Act with bi-partisan support. Part of the act was to use a system-wide electronic tracking site to allow doctors to see what prescriptions a patient had been prescribed.
Willis said due to increased paperwork for insurance and reimbursements, some doctors have been slow to participate in the tracking system.
Another problem is the age at which addiction begins. Studies show kids as early as middle school are now getting involved in drugs.
“We need to do more peer pressure in doing the right things,” said Joshua Leray, a high school senior in Craven County.
Leray is part of a group called the Coastal Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention (CCSAP). He said being a positive influence on students his age can help prevent addiction from starting in the first place.
“Whether it’s alcohol or drugs, definitely minors and their old siblings, it’s so easy to get those,” he said.
Statewide, unintentional medication and drug deaths cost $2.1 billion in total combined cost in 2016.
Carteret County had one of the highest rates of unintentional medication and drug death rates in the state, coming in with between 17 and 33 deaths per 100,000 people.
“In Carteret County, if I can establish probable cause I’m going to arrest them and put them in jail,” said Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck.
Buck said in the past three years, his department has made more than 400 drug related arrests. He’s also joined several DAs in the East in pushing for murder charges if a drug dealer sells something to a person that winds up killing them.
However, he said one of the issues in prosecuting the cases are delays in evidence from the state lab and medical examiner’s office.
“It may be apparent to us, or at least we have cause to believe the person may have died due to drug overdose, but we don’t know 100 percent what that death is,” Buck said.
Recently, a judge decided to increase bond amounts for those charged with distributing drugs in Carteret County. Buck said that will prevent dealers from getting out of jail and selling more drugs while waiting for trial.
North Carolina’s State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Tilson said the approach to battle addiction must be multi-faceted. She said community support and awareness goes a long way in fighting the problem.