Opioid abuse battle needs reinvigorating

Opioids are well entrenched in Scotland County.

That’s probably not a surprise to most, and others may very well be searching for a dictionary to find out what an opioid actually is. We’ll try to help.

Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain. Opioids include some prescription pain medications, synthetic fentanyl and heroin. All opioids have a similar effect on the brain — they reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect the brain areas controlling emotion and breathing.

Opioids include such drugs as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone (including vicodin), oxycodone (including percocet and oxycontin), fentanyl, methadone and heroin.

Obviously, all have their own specific side effects, each one potentially worse with extended or increased usage — including death. From 1999 to 2016 more than 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid-related overdoses and, in the first quarter of 2017, the state saw a 40-percent increase over 2016 in opioid overdoses. Those numbers continue to rise today.

This epidemic is devastating families and communities; it is overwhelming medical providers and straining prevention and treatment efforts; and it’s finding new avenues within our schools. It’s also why North Carolina — and across the nation, really — efforts are well underway, plans are being formed and put into action to fight this local, state and national crisis.

In 2017, the General Assembly strongly urged each of the state’s 100 counties to put together an opioid task force geared toward bringing the communities they serve together for a joint effort against opioid abuse. Most counties, spearheaded by their Board of Commissioners, has complied and now has at least several months under their belts.

Scotland County isn’t one of those. At least not as strongly as some of its neighbors.

While Laurinburg has a crime and drug prevention organization that surely includes an eye toward the opioid crisis, and the county has a community task force that meets quarterly to discuss opioids, it’s not nearly enough. In a loose poll of local leaders, when asked whether the county had an opioid task force, the answer typically was “I don’t know” or “I think so.”

That’s not good.

Opioids aren’t the sole problem for criminal drug users. An addiction to opioids is affecting teens who may be recovering from an athletic injury or migraines; the college student or 20-something new to the workforce who is trying to manage stress; the middle-age individual who just wants to feel better; and even the elderly who needs to pay the light bill and has a few extra medications to sell.

The solutions to curtail this epidemic aren’t simple. It takes a complex and united effort between elected officials, law enforcement, school officials, DSS, health department, mental health agencies, local pharmacists and physicians, hospital officials, church leaders and, most importantly, the general public. All must come together regularly to create a well thought out plan and see that it gets implemented. And we think that, if the county’s task force isn’t meeting monthly, it simply can’t be effective.

Allow us to emphasize — this is a complex issue requiring partnership from many local sectors and is an effort that needs to be supported through funding and resources to be successful. Yes, it takes dollars. But there are state and federal grants available that will allow a county task force to create the necessary items for community meetings, school and church discussions, advertising and more.

We urge the county take whatever start there has been to fighting opioid abuse and ramp up the effort. It’s one thing to say there is an opioid task force, and it’s another to actually show progress within the county. Count us in to help.