Opioid crisis underway in Onslow. What are the statistics, the next steps?

Jacksonville is no longer in the nation’s top 10 cities for opioid addiction, though city and county leaders say there’s still work to be done to continue improving the numbers.

“Opioids have been around for a long time, and a few years ago the numbers really went up in our area, and community leaders came together and we decided we were going to fight this, and as a result of that, we made some very good progress, some great things,” said North Carolina Sen. Michael Lazzara.

Community leaders from Jacksonville and Onslow gathered Friday for a forum on the current opioid crisis, held at the Sturgeon City Environmental Education Center. The forum was organized and sponsored by Onslow Memorial Hospital and the Jacksonville-Onslow Chamber of Commerce.

Lazzara moderated the forum, with panelists available for questions: Dr. Tobi Gilbert, police crisis adviser; Julia Neal, site director of the Dix Crisis Intervention Center and Lee Stiles, COSSAP grants/opioids coordinator, who was himself an addict.

Senator Lazzara moderates the forum.

“It’s been around for a long time, but unfortunately the discussion about it has been overshadowed by COVID-19 for the past two years, definitely entering year three now,” said Onslow Memorial President and CEO. , Dr. Penney Burlingame Deal . “I will also say that it probably contributed to this discussion and this issue that we have right now.”

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Burlingame said the pandemic’s sense of social isolation exacerbates mental health issues, which exacerbate self-medicating behaviors.

“We were reducing the number of overdose rates, and we felt really good about the path we were heading in, and then all of a sudden we have a little virus that really changed things a bit,” Lazzara said.

Lazzara reported 92,000 opioid overdose cases in the United States in 2020, up 21,000 from 2019. One of the biggest issues is the presence of fentanyl, synthetic opioids.

Fentanyl was present in 87% of these cases.

“There is no social class when it comes to addiction,” Lazzara said. “It affects everyone at any class level.”

Onslow Emergency Departments reported a significant increase in opioid-related overdoses and deaths from 2019 to 2020.

In 2017, Lazzara and Gilbert said, a report had Jacksonville, Wilmington, Fayetteville and Hickory in the top 10 cities for opioid addiction. Gilbert said that was no longer the case.

“In fact, compared to the current state, we are relatively low,” Gilbert said.

Lee said Onslow County’s unintentional overdose death rate is 28.3%, with 56 overdose deaths in 2020. While that’s a high number, it’s far lower than there were. several years old.

It pulled overdose records for the first three quarters of 2021 and said there were 41 overdose deaths. Of these, 66% of those who died had fentanyl present. Lee said cocaine is also back on the rise.

“I can definitely say that, I think COVID could be one of them, but in 2020 we would see on average about 30% of our individuals for opioid detox,” Neal said. “It was pretty consistent. We would see this pattern regularly. Alcohol was always highest at around 50%.

“Over the past six months or so, that number has been getting closer and closer. We’re seeing an upward trend in around 40-45% of the people we serve, each month in Onslow, for opioid detox. .”

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However, in February the numbers declined and were back to about normal.

Lazzara said the crisis led the community to open the Dix Crisis Center, which includes multi-county participation, one of the first in the state. The county has also started aversion programs to help young people from an early age, prevent them from entering the prison system.

“Incarceration is not a solution,” Lazzara said. “We cannot incarcerate to get out of the opioid crisis.”

Lazzara said people who become addicted to opioids are usually great, smart, gifted people who get involved in innocent ways, like wounds. One of the ways Lazzara tried to help the crisis was to draft a bill making fentanyl a Class I felony versus a misdemeanor.

He said fentanyl has been found in several other drugs, particularly marijuana, which poses a threat to young people thinking they are just smoking a less harmful drug.

“I sit on judicial review, and we’re working very hard on our prison systems to develop programs in our prison systems that are real drug treatment programs,” Lazzara said. “Again, jail is not the answer.”

Stiles, who due to his addiction has been through the prison system twice, said he did not have access to any programs while incarcerated. The only one available was the DART, which was not available to everyone, only those who had been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder or mental health disorder.

Additionally, all three panelists discussed the issue of transportation regarding people needing treatment for opioid addiction in Onslow County.

“One of the barriers I’ve seen is that a lot of these people are struggling to get to the facilities, so I feel like we need to open up more transportation options for people who want to go to rehab,” Stiles said. “We have a 24-hour window with people who want to get clean. If we don’t provide them with the resources they need within that 24-hour window, they’re going to go right back into that addiction.”

Community leaders enjoy pizza and discussions before the forum starts.

Neal said a unique challenge with Onslow and the other counties Dix serves is that it’s rural. There is a lot of expansive distance. Although the center has a transport specialist, it is one person and many people cannot get to the facilities.

“They may be in the same county, but they’re 45-50 minutes away, and that alone is a huge challenge when you add how rural our area is, on top of the transportation already in difficulty we have,” says Neal.

Rising opioid addictions are also costing the state money. Lazzara said it costs the prison system $250 a day to have a minor and $60 a day to have an adult.

On top of that, there are the millions of dollars for various programs that, if not effective, are costing taxpayers money for almost no reason. Hospitals are also struggling.

“If we can save a life, then we’ve done our job,” Lazzara said. “But we have to save a life. We’re losing too many family members, too many young children, sons, daughters, we can’t just sit back and be complacent.”

Oxycodone is the generic name for a range of opioids.

Neal said the Dix Crisis Center serves an average of 800 Onslow residents a year, but there are more waiting to get help.

“They use the services we have, but there may be wait times, there may be only one avenue or one service they can access,” Neal said. “I think what’s really great is that we have them, and it’s about potentially achieving more of the same.”

Addiction does not always end after being dealt with once. Lee said there was no set time when it came to addiction, and he had friends who had to go to eight rehab centers, and those who only went to one.

“It’s a lifelong process when we talk about recovery,” Lee said.

Journalist Morgan Starling can be reached at [email protected].