Opioid use in Surry County ‘a serious problem and it is growing’

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SURRY COUNTY, N.C. – Opioids are killing people at an alarming rate in Surry County.

“This is a serious problem and it is growing,” said Surry County Emergency Management Director John Shelton.

In 2013, emergency services responded to 30 overdoses which resulted in a death in the county. In 2014, that number grew to 32, and in 2015 it rose to 43.

This year, five people have died from an overdose in the county.

“We run several hundred overdoses a year,” Shelton said. “Several.”

Of the overdose deaths in the last year, Shelton estimates that about 95 – 97 percent of them were results of opioid use.

“It puts them into respiratory arrest and death very quickly,” Shelton said.

Officials say the problem is the opioids are legal, overprescribed, and easy to find.

“In most cases like that, they’re either going to abuse it, they’re either going to sell it, or they’re either going to kill themselves with it,” Shelton said, of people who are prescribed the painkillers.

Also, for younger generations, it’s a way to get high without their parents or teachers knowing.

“In a lot of the younger population it’s that this is fun, this is an easy way to get a high without smelling alcohol on your breath,” Shelton said.

Once hooked, people both young and old are going to extreme measures to feed their addiction.

“We have kids out here, and even adults that are stealing from their families, their grandparents, their friends, just to be able to support their habit,” Shelton said.
However, the opioids are expensive, which leads those who are addicted to other drugs.

“Which is the reason heroin’s come back. Heroin’s cheaper now. So, that abuse has started to unfold in the county again. Over the last year we’ve run several heroin overdoses as a result of this,” Shelton said.

Shelton tells FOX8 that multiple people have been saved by NARCAN, which they use when someone has stopped breathing after an overdose.

“If we didn’t carry those in the trucks, or the EMS units that we have now, your death totals would be much, much higher,” he said.

To combat the problem, they’ve put all area agencies and medical communities on alert. They’re also reaching out to the public through education, and talking to those who are prescribed the opioids about how to control their use.