ROCKINGHAM — The Drug Endangered Family Task Force only just approved its official mission statement, but its members are seeing new avenues open up for them to accomplish that mission as the opioid crisis gains more visibility across the country.
The task force is a collaborative effort between local health care service providers, law enforcement, faith and school system leaders, and researchers led by the Department of Social Services under the guidelines laid out in North Carolina’s Opioid Action Plan, which was released in June.
It’s current mission statement is “to prevent prescription and illegal drug overdoses” and to “form partnerships, raise awareness and educate the community on this public issue in hopes of reducing overdoses and increasing access to treatment.”
The state’s action plan aims to reduce the number of unintentional opioid-related deaths and emergency department visits by 20 percent by 2021. It also hopes to show any decrease in the oversupply of prescription opioids and any increase in access to Narcan, a drug that can reverse an overdose, and to treatment and recovery options.
The plan provides data and assigns groups to lead specific strategies, but it doesn’t give explicit direction to communities on how to proceed in reaching its goals. Robby Hall, director of the Richmond County Department of Social Services, said the department still has to figure out how to translate the plan into something that will work at the local level.
“Imagine the difference in implementation in a Mecklenburg versus a Richmond or a Scotland even,” Hall said. “How do you actually translate that where in a larger community I may have 10 staff (members) to do something where in Richmond County one staff (member) may be doing five functions? We have to find a way to blend what we already have together to do it.”
The task force doesn’t yet have any funding for events it is planning for next year, though the Sandhills Center said it would partner with the department on funding for its first community outreach event.
Hall said the meeting with N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein on Nov. 16 showed him that there are ways that the department can work with local leaders to fight the opioid crisis in Richmond County.
“I think what (the meeting) did for us (was) it made everybody aware that (the opioid crisis) is affecting all of us,” Hall said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in law enforcement or DSS or county citizens, it’s affecting everybody and we were able to talk even after the meeting to say ‘these are the things we need to do.’”
In North Carolina, three people a day die from opioid overdose. Richmond County is ranked fourth in the state in opioid pills per resident at 132.2, well above the state average of 78.3, according to state statistics.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]