Health Board updated on local pill problem

By Abbi Overfelt

February 19, 2014

LAURINBURG — Scotland County Health Director David Jenkins during Tuesday’s monthly Health Board meeing shared a presentation that showed just how rampant the problem of prescription pill addiction is throughout North Carolina — and that Scotland County since 2006 has remained in the top tier for deaths due to overdoses on painkillers.

The presentation, created by Steve Marshall, director of the Injury Research Prevention Center which operates on the campus of the University of North Carolina, highlighted statistics showing that from 1999-2012, the number of deaths in the state caused by opioid painkillers has risen steadily above deaths caused by cocaine and heroin. Last year, the total was about 600; that number peaked in 2008 at nearly 800.

Scotland County numbers, too, have risen. Less than five deaths were reported from painkiller overdose from 1999 to 2001. From 2002 to 2005, the rate of county deaths was calculated as falling in 5.6-9.6 per 100,000 people; in 2006-2009, that number jumped to 9.7-42.0 percent, the highest tier calculated for the state, where it has remained since.

The county also ranks among the state’s highest for emergency room visits related to overdoses, falling into a category of about 381 to 893.

Jenkins suggested the county participate in a program offered by the Governor’s Institute for Substance Abuse, which would hold a public event in Scotland County that would allow open discussion of the problem.

“I’ve always kind of heard a little here and there but I didn’t realize how big of a problem it really is,” Jenkins said.

Board member Dave Raley said the problem hasn’t improved because police, who most encounter prescription drug abusers, are by nature concerned with arrests and property seizures and not with a cure to addiction; but board member Dr. Kelvin Raybon said some responsibility also fell on physicians, who have since the late 1990s fallen into a habit of over-prescribing medication. In 1999, he said, medical governing committees advised hospitals that “pain was undertreated, and that doctors are not in tune to people’s pain.”

“It exactly correlates with this problem, with medicines being extremely prescribed,” he said. “… We’ve kind of come full circle, so the balance is off.”

Also at the meeting, the Health Department’s Director, of Nursing, Tina Clark, told the board that there had been one death in the county from the flu. The patient was about 60 years old, she said, but did not know of any factors that may have contributed to the death.

Clark said the department has given out 411 doses of the flu vaccine, and 70 doses remain.

Also on Tuesday, Fiscal Management Director Tim Martin presented a financial report that reflects a high percentage in fees collected for services rendered, but a definciency in department revenue because the amount of services rendered has not been as high as budgeted estimates — and the services rendered last year and charged to Medicaid have not been reimbursed.

“Our biggest concern right now is Medicaid,” Martin said. “… When the budget was originally made, it was done under the projection that some of the past year’s bills that were owed for Medicaid were going to be received in this year’s budget and that just hasn’t come to be.”

Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 12. Follow her on Twitter @aoinscotco.