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Pill Problem: Getting help for opioid users in eastern ‘Carolina

Part 2 of a series

MURFREESBORO – With the opioid epidemic sweeping across the nation, it’s important to know what resources are available to help users who abuse prescription pills and develop addictions. On January 11, Vidant Health partnered with other North Carolina resources to sponsor a conference examining resources available to help opioid users seeking treatment.

The seminar speakers all provided different perspectives on helping affected people.

Natasha Holley, Clinical Director of Integrated Family Services, spoke to the crowd about the Mobile Crisis Team which serves people in several northeastern NC counties including Northampton, Hertford, Bertie, and Gates. They have offices in both Ahoskie and Jackson.

“The number one goal of Mobile Crisis is to keep people in the community,” said Holley before explaining further that they help people get connected to the resources they need in a crisis in order to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

The toll-free Mobile Crisis number is 1-866-437-1821, and it is open 24 hours a day all year long.

When calling, you must be able to provide name, date of birth, location, and a brief description of the crisis. The caller will be connected to a licensed professional or specialist to help best figure out how to treat the issue.

While the Mobile Crisis Team responds a majority of the time to mental health crises, Holley said there has been a rise in calls connected to opioid substance abuse. Those people are often in withdrawal and are looking for a detox or treatment center. The team responds to the person face-to-face after the call, no matter where they are, and then helps connect them to the nearest places available to receive treatment.

“We always encourage people to make sure that we have a two-way communication going, so if there are some issues, we work through it,” she added.

During a panel discussion, the audience shared other resources people could turn to, such as phone apps, the Centers for Disease Control website, and Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

The Roanoke-Chowan area is host to several NA and AA meetings held at the following locations: 300 N. Main Street, Rich Square (Mondays 8-9 p.m.), St. Thomas Episcopal Church fellowship hall, Ahoskie (Tuesdays and Thursdays 8-9 p.m.), the Murfree Center in Murfreesboro (Wednesdays, 8-9 p.m.), Union Baptist Church fellowship hall, Ahoskie (Thursdays 7-9 p.m.), and Soul Saving Station Church, Ahoskie (Saturdays 4-5 p.m.).

To share a law enforcement perspective, Investigator Donnie Varnell from the Dare County Sheriff’s Office spoke during his presentation about a few different programs and organizations working to combat the opioid problem.

The HOPE Initiative is a program in Nashville, NC created by the town’s police chief Thomas Bashore in 2016. The goal of the initiative is to give users another option instead of being jailed. Instead of locking people up, Varnell explained, the police department works with volunteers to get those people into treatment centers.

“There is no perfect plan, there is no perfect treatment center,” Varnell said, but added drug-related crime is down in Nashville since the program was put into place.

The LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program in Fayetteville is similar to HOPE because its goal is to break people out of the cycle of getting arrested for petty drug crimes. Varnell illustrated for the audience how a person can choose to turn in their drugs or paraphernalia and join the program instead of spending a night in jail. Those in the program are given a diagnostic test and then are connected to treatment options.

Varnell said LEAD was a positive for both law enforcement and the users. The officers are able to get back out on the streets more quickly while the users get the treatment and support they need.

The NC Harm Reduction Coalition is another organization that works to “help people that no one else will help,” Varnell explained. One of their main programs is getting naloxone out to the people who need it.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a medicine which helps counteract an opioid overdose, saving the life of the user.

Varnell, along with many of the conference’s other presenters, mentioned the importance of having naloxone available despite pushback initially from law enforcement. Community groups such as the Albemarle Overdose Prevention Coalition (AOPC) and Dare County’s Coalition Against Substance Abuse (Dare CASA) have worked hard to get naloxone kits out to police officers, paramedics, EMTs, school nurses, and whoever else may come in contact with someone who has overdosed.

“Because of the strength of some of the substances that are out there now, it is not only a life safety issue for the person using [drugs], it’s also a life safety issue for the law enforcement officer,” said Ashley Stoop of AOPC about accident exposure for police.

Varnell added that naloxone is also used in cases where elderly people have accidentally overdosed or young children have accidentally gained access to the pills.

But most importantly, the investigator said, it gives people a second chance at life.

“One of the biggest problems we see with all of this is the stigma associated with addiction,” Stoop said as she concluded her presentation. “We need to change the mindset of the community, so they can embrace and realize that these individuals need help.”

Next in the series: ways to prevent opioid misuse