ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County Manager Bryan Land will ask the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to declare an opioid crisis to raise awareness of the county’s struggle with heroin and painkillers.
Richmond County is currently ranked fourth in the state in opioid pills per resident at 132.2 — well above the state average of 78.3 — according to statistics from the County Leadership Forum on Opioid Abuse. The county’s rate of unintentional medication and drug overdose rates are also significantly higher than the state average at 18.8 deaths per 100,000 residents compared to 12.2 statewide, according to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics.
State leaders have been sounding the alarm over recent months, with Gov. Roy Cooper releasing an Opioid Action Plan in June and Attorney General Josh Stein holding numerous roundtable discussions with community leaders, including one in Richmond County in November that was widely attended.
Land said now was the time to make the declaration because opioids are “on everybody’s mind.”
The Richmond County Department of Social Services in June began forming the Drug Endangered Family Task Force under guidelines laid out in the governor’s action plan. The task force is a collaboration between DSS, the Health Department, FirstHealth, the Sandhills Center, private healthcare providers, law enforcement, EMS, Samaritan Colony, public schools and faith leaders.
The task force is in the process of collecting data from local agencies that could be used to better communicate the ways that Richmond County has been affected by opioid use. There were seven new faces at the task force meeting last week, bringing the total membership to 29, according to Amy Green, administrative assistant for Richmond County Health and Human Services. There are open invitations to several more people as they work out the logistics.
DSS Director Robby Hall said the proposal to declare an opioid crisis in Richmond County will hopefully “mobilize the community” even more to combat the issue.
Samaritan Colony is expanding from a men-only residential addiction treatment facility to form a women’s facility with 14 beds. Currently, the nearest treatment center for women with substance abuse issues is Path of Hope in Lexington which is about an hour and 20 minutes’ drive. Harold Pearson, director of Samaritan Colony, estimated in November that the facility could be up and running “maybe two years down the road.”
Director of Health and Human Services Tommy Jarrell said all three law enforcement agencies in Richmond County — the sheriff’s office, Rockingham and Hamlet police departments — as well as EMS, are equipped with doses of Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose.
Sheriff James Clemmons said deputies have been equipped with Narcan for more than a year, while Hamlet police officers have had it for at least two months, according to Chief Scott Waters.
Clemmons said that deputies saved three lives with Narcan in 2017. Waters said his department hasn’t had to use Narcan yet, but with the opioid epidemic being so widespread, he “felt we needed to be prepared to help save a life.”
“Any information given to our community that can help with bringing opioid addiction to the forefront of the conversation is always a positive,” Clemmons said.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]