Originally in the Statesville Record & Landmark

August 24, 2017

With abuse of opioid prescription pills reaching epidemic levels nationwide, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein visited Iredell County leaders on Thursday to discuss local solutions.

During the meeting, which took place at the Iredell County Department of Health, Stein listened to concerns and ideas from local officials in law enforcement, education, health care, recovery, government and the justice system.

Here are five takeaways from the discussion.

1. Overdoses on the rise

Nearly 1 in 20 calls Iredell EMS responds to are overdoses. That’s up 25 percent from last year, EMS System Medical Director Bryan Beaver said. Officials say overdose emergencies are also increasing in hospitals.

Iredell Health Director Jane Hinson pointed to a recent story of two adults who overdosed in a car parked at a Statesville Dollar General with a 2-year-old in the back seat. “This sounds like a news report in Atlanta, but it happened right here in Iredell County.”

2. Police, courts overwhelmed

Officials say opioid-related cases are bogging down resources that would normally go toward other issues. As Mooresville Police Chief Damon Williams said to the medical and recovery professionals in the room, “We really need you all to take the lead on this because we are really taxed with violent crime, gang violence.”

Judge Joe Crosswhite, senior superior court judge in Iredell, said drug-related offenses are a majority of the cases he hears. District Attorney Sarah Kirkman agreed that crimes committed by people with opioid addiction are clogging the court and jail, and Yvette Smith, director of Iredell Social Services, said there are too many children being taken from parents with addiction for the department to keep up.

3. Officials have personal stories

Even among the public officials whose job it is to address opioid overdose deaths, there are personal stories of loss.

A prosecutor close to Kirkman lost his life to opioids, she said. Iredell Commissioner Tommy Bowles lost a brother and a sister to drug overdoses.

“My brother and sister, they kind of fell victim to things,” Bowles said. “They fell victim to legitimate illnesses and were prescribed so many painkillers, so many pills, to the point my whole family was looking over the medications so they didn’t have access to it.”

4. Pill sharing an issue

Mitchell Community College students often think sharing prescription pills is cool and chic, Porter Brannon, vice president of student affairs, said. It’s not viewed as taboo or a dangerous, slippery slope to addiction.

Addiction expert Omar S. Manejwala called for a change in culture around sharing pills, saying, “We need to make med sharing ‘Not cool, bro.’” 

“We’ve done it for smoking. We’ve done it for seat belts. We’ve done it for drinking and driving. ... Med sharing (is) a plurality of this.”

5. Solutions to take years

“This is a work in progress,” Stein said after listening to the speakers. “It has taken us about 20 years to get to this level of crisis. We will not get out of it in 2017. We will not get out of it in 2018. But what I am confident is that if we keep doing this work together, we will get out of it.”

Stein said his office is working on many solutions, including launching an online resource for communities to share ideas and programs to confront the crisis. His office also hopes to revamp the N.C. Controlled Substance Reporting System doctors use to see who already has opioid prescriptions to make it easier to use.