Fighting back against the opioid crisis in Davidson County

LEXINGTON, N.C. -- Forty-five people died from an opioid overdose in 2017 in Davidson County.

That number, officials say, keeps going up.

They're now looking at something new to help, with a $62,000 price tag.

A proposed opioid response coordinator role at the Davidson County Health Department would help coordinate efforts and get people the help they need to fight back against the opioid crisis.

"We've gone from almost 19,000 calls in the last few years to 25,000 last year," said Zeb Hanner, the Davidson County Manager.

He says the opioid crisis has put a strain on resources, like emergency services, but also a strain on a community to keep its people alive.

"We've had a pretty high death rate for opioids in this county," Hanner said. "It's taxing some of our services. Our jail is starting to fill up because of opioid addiction."

Hanner believes things could change soon.

During a county commissioners meeting on Thursday, the health department proposed the coordinator position to expedite efforts in fighting the opioid crisis in the community.

"Those efforts have been minimal to date," said Lillian Koontz, in Thursday's meeting. "This person would be that one person, regardless of who gets a call in the county about an opioid crisis. This would be the person they would call."

Koontz is the brainchild behind the proposed new role and is the health director for the health department.

The coordinator would serve as a liaison, connecting people who need help with their addiction and getting them back on their feet.

Its modeled after a successful program in Nashville, North Carolina, called the Hope Initiative.

"Get people into programs and get them help, and get them back on track with their lives," Hanner said. "Finding the resources and putting people in touch with folks to get treatment, so overall our statistics of overdose death would go down."

The $62,000 total cost for the initiative would come from local dollars.

If the county commissioners approve the new role, Hanner believes it would be worth it.

"We want to try this," he said. "And if it doesn't work, we'll try something else, because we need to address it."

The county commissioners will vote on the budget and the coordinator role in June.

If it's approved, they will see how effective the coordinator is, before deciding to either continue with the program or finding another solution.

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