Warren County community leaders address opioid abuse

​Originally posted on the Henderson Patch by David Irvine dirvine@hendersondispatch.com; 252-436-2838

Aug 22, 2017


Community leaders met Monday evening at the Warren County Armory Civic Center to talk about opioid abuse and addiction.

Margaret Brake, director of the Warren County Health Department, introduced the speakers and moderated a panel of representatives from community organizations.

Dr. Tedra Anderson-Brown, medical director for substance abuse with Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, provided a background on opioid abuse. Although the United States has only 5 percent of the world's population, it has 80 percent of the world's users of prescription opioids, she said.

Opioid abuse is a rising threat to good health. Anderson-Brown said the number of deaths in the U.S. from opioids rose from 150 in 1995 to 1,110 in 2015.

But opioid deaths don't tell the whole story, she added; for every person who dies from opioids, 825 individuals are addicted.

Anderson-Brown clarified the meaning of addiction. "This is a brain disease," she said. "It is not a moral failing." It may be related to genetic factors as well as environmental conditions such as socioeconomic status and educational level. You cannot separate underlying social factors from treatment, she added.

Whatever the cause, it is a serious problem. "Every day people are dying from this addiction," she said.

It is important to treat addiction as a disease. "Treatment works," she said.

Dr. Keith McCoy, chief clinical officer and medical director with Cardinal Innovations, said one successful tool is motivational interviewing, a nonjudgmental technique in which the interviewer reflects back what the client is saying to help overcome the client's resistance to treatment.

Discussion by the panel and the audience brought out several themes, including preventing or treating addiction in young people. Elliot Clark, who provides community liaison for Cardinal Innovations, said teenagers are the most difficult population to engage, especially if the family is not addressing the issue. A member of the audience said children in middle school are being exposed to drugs. Working with adults or even older teenagers is too late, she said.

Families are affected when even one member is addicted. Warren County Social Services Director Ryan Whitson gave an example. He told of a mother whose addiction led to the placement of her child in a foster home. When she failed to sustain treatment, her child was put up for adoption. "That mother lost her child forever."

Warren County Commissioner Tare Davis raised the issue of the relationship of addiction and law enforcement, pointing out that an officer of the law may be put in an ambiguous position when a lawbreaker appears to need treatment. McCoy said that for purposes of public safety, the officer has to charge the offender. Anderson-Brown said, "We're not saying absolve anyone of consequences." But there should be differential treatment within the justice system, she added. It can't be just law enforcement or just treatment. A coordinated effort is needed. Prevention, education and treatment services must work together.

District Court Judge Ben Hunter said the state of North Carolina has started to address the need to treat addiction as a disease, although the courts do not have a great deal of flexibility in sentencing individuals who break laws related to drugs. "The state has started to give the D.A. a little more wiggle room," he said, "but we certainly have a long way to go."

Arthur Payne, clinical supervisor with Vance Recovery Services, said the goal is to help people make better decisions. "We hope the legal system becomes a partner even more than it is."

North Carolina Representative Terry Garrison said, "I've learned a lot. I'll take it back to the General Assembly."

Warren County Commissioner Bertadean Baker asked about next steps. "Talking is good," she said, "but acting is better."

Brake said that topics for further consideration include prevention, education, collaboration and peer support.

Warren County Manager Robert Davie added that there needs to be action: "It's up to us in this room to get something done."

In his wrap-up remarks, Davis reminded the group that, although the discussion has focused on drugs and addiction, "We're talking about people."


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