2017 Surry County drug-related deaths reach half of 2016 total

SURRY COUNTY, N.C. -- There have been 16 drug-related deaths through the first two months of 2017 in Surry County, compared to 32 drug-related deaths in all of 2016. As state lawmakers have introduced legislation to combat the opioid epidemic in North Carolina, Surry County officials are taking steps of their own.

“There’s still a lot of catastrophe with it,” said John Shelton, Surry County Emergency Services director. “A lot of families who are having to endure the results of what’s happening here.”

Shelton says the epidemic is particularly affecting young adults, but the age range of users is vast.

“You’re looking at from 13 to in the 70s that are abusing the medication,” he said.

On Thursday, legislators introduced the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention, or STOP Act. The bill is directed toward ensuring smarter prescribing and dispensing of prescription drugs, as well as providing funding for treatment and recovery.

The language inside the bill reads that it is an act “strengthening opioid misuse prevention by extending standing orders for opioid antagonist to community health groups; requiring supervising physicians to personally consult with physician assistants and nurse practitioners who prescribe schedule II through V controlled substances for long-term use; requiring electronic prescribing of schedule II through V controlled substances; establishing maximum limits for initial prescriptions of schedule II through V controlled substances; clarifying allowable funds for syringe exchange programs; requiring veterinarian participation in the Controlled Substances Reporting System; establishing civil penalties for pharmacies that employ dispensers who improperly report information to the Controlled Substances Reporting System (CSRS); expanding the role of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in using CSRS data to detect and prevent fraud and misuse; mandating dispenser registration for access to the CSRS; mandating dispenser and practitioner use of the CSRS; requiring DHHS to report practitioners who fail to properly use the CSRS; creating a special revenue fund to support the CSRS; imposing an annual fee on practitioners to be deposited into the CSRS special revenue fund; requiring an annual report from DHHS on the CSRS; and appropriating funds for community-based substance use disorder treatment and recovery services.”

“That’s, I hope, the beginning of a new day in North Carolina with opioid addiction,” said Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson, also the president of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association.

Atkinson added that he plans to make suggestions to Attorney General Josh Stein as the bill is amended.

“There are some things that I would like to see included in that I think would be helpful to us from a boots on the ground law enforcement standpoint,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Surry County, that have added education about drug use in their schools. They are also working closely with mental health professionals and providing further training for law enforcement in relation to administering Narcan.

Shelton tells FOX8 Narcan is used on overdose victims about 20 times per month in the county.

“The death toll could be much greater,” he said.

While the deaths grab your attention, the underlying story is the other affects opioid addiction has on North Carolinians.

“Families that are torn apart, houses that are broken into in order to get money to buy prescription drugs,” Atkinson said. “Domestic issues, child abuse and neglect issues.”

Atkinson added that approximately 90 percent of crimes committed in Surry County are directly related to drug abuse, with opioids being most prevalent.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of the opioid issue,” he said.

Atkinson added that most addicts don’t have the resources they need to receive long-term care.

Either we’re going to arrest you, we’re going to put you in jail, you’re not going to be able to get the opioids. You’re going to be one of those lucky people that has the support system and the resources to go through rehab and get clean, or you’re [going to] die,” he said.