Rockingham County's opiate overdoses surpass last year

Originally posted in the Rockingham Now by​ Joe Dexter

Aug 24, 2017


WENTWORTH — Rockingham County EMS has reported 15 deaths and 67 known opiate overdoses thus far in 2017 – a total  that exceeds the 61 known overdose cases in 2016.

That total represents 52 percent of all the suspected overdose cases in which Narcan has been used this year.

According to data presented to the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners on Monday night by Justin Stewart, Rockingham County Emergency Services training officer, first responders have handled 129 incidents this year in which there was a suspected overdose.

Of those totals, a staggering 62 percent of those instances took place in Eden and Reidsville. The two towns represent nearly a third of the county's population and have had 80 combined suspected overdoses in 2017.

The effects of opioid addiction have also been felt in the western Rockingham towns of Madison, Mayodan and Stoneville. In total, the trio has seen a combined total of 31 suspected overdoses reported by RCEMS this year – a number that is just two shy of the total amount registered in Eden – a town that has nearly 10,000 more residents than the western municipalities.

Reidsville has registered the most suspected opioid overdoses with 47.

Stewart said emergency services was shocked to find that so far in 2017, the average age of those 67 known overdoses is 45 years old.

"We are really seeing a balance of what heroin use is versus [the previous use of] opiates," Stewart said. "Now they are controlling the opiates so much more that they are not able to get pain relief anymore."

He added that the average death due to overdose is also pegged at 45 years old and that EMS sees many instances of cardiac arrest when arriving on the scene.

According to figures compiled by the department, billable costs to patients in suspected overdose cases have cost taxpayers $64,429 the first eight months of 2017.

Stewart said revenue loss from the legalization of marijuana has led to drug cartels looking to recoup nearly $450 million in revenue lost. They've done so by finding a cheaper drug that can be deathly addicting.

"The pricing of heroin has dropped significantly because they are cutting it with other drugs – like fentanyl is one of the stories you hear. What is really scary to me now is there are some agents they are cutting it with," Stewart said. "Even the first responders are becoming exposed to these drugs just from the powder that they get on it from residue, so we are encouraging law enforcement and also our first responders from fire departments and rescue squads to start wearing gloves when approaching these patients."

The training officer added another scary equation to the crisis – Narcan parties. Stewart said that twice over the last four months, EMS units have responded to a scene where somebody had a syringe and had a vial of Narcan obtained with a doctor's order.

Stewart said it was a shocker to find out from some of his units that one person would stay sober at these types of parties, so when everybody else overdosed, they could shoot them up to relieve them of their overdoses.

If things get too bad, Stewart said the sober person would call for EMS.

"It is a crisis but we are tackling it. The county has been very progressive about it. EMS is being very progressive about it. We are reaching to some very untraditional areas to actually get help about this."

Along with county emergency personnel, county commissioners continue to fight the issue head-on. After the creation of a local Opioid Task Force to bring awareness to the growing issue, the board and county officials have organized a County Leadership Forum on Opioid Abuse, which will take place on Sept. 29 at the Eden Ballroom.

The meeting will serve as an opportunity for local elected officials to meet in the same room and share ideas on how to attack one of the county's major issues moving forward.

"I'm very proud of this board. We are going very proactive on trying to help and our staff is following our lead and pushing these issues," said Commissioner Craig Travis during the presentation "…They are leading the way on trying to see if we can come out of the box and handle this situation because we care about our citizens too."

Stewart also announced that Cardinal Health is setting up a clinic in the county to provide detox and treatment.

Daymark Recovery Services and Insight Human Services will provide services and treatment therapies in the near future.

New mental health partners are also in the final steps of being approved by Cardinal Innovations that will also help provide more pieces to the puzzle.

Stewart said when opioid addictions first hit after the Vietnam War, it took a ground-level commitment from faith-based groups and others in the community to break the ugly chain.

"It was a grassroots movement of the people and the churches getting involved to break the back of the overdose crisis they had back then and we are starting to see that mobilize now," he said.

On Thursday, a moment of silence and garden dedication will take place at 3 p.m. in remembrance of loved ones lost to the opioid epidemic.

The International Overdose Awareness day event will be held at the Rockingham County Governmental Center and will also feature influential speakers, as well as prevention and treatment resources.


Contact Joe Dexter at (336) 349-4331, ext. 6139 and follow @JoeDexter_RCN on Twitter.



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