NC Attorney General meets with roundtable in Forsyth County regarding opioid epidemic

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein says Winston-Salem has had the greatest growth rate of overdose deaths of all the cities in North Carolina. On Wednesday, that’s where he met for a roundtable with law enforcement, prosecutors, EMS, doctors, treatment facilities, among others.

“The problem that we’re seeing with opioids, it’s at the beach, it’s here in the Piedmont and it’s in the mountains,” Stein said.

Winston-Salem police say they had 90 overdoses in 2015, 164 in 2016 and are projecting 192 in 2017. The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is anticipating an excess of 100 overdoses in the county in 2017.

“To me, a successful strategy hinges on three things, and it’s prevention, treatment and enforcement,” Stein said.

Stein spoke about the state’s STOP Act, which will attack addiction by preventing new users through smarter prescribing.

“Using this database, the CSRS, Controlled Substance Reporting Service, so doctors know when patients are doctor shopping,” Stein provided, as an example.

Stein added that there were 10 million prescriptions for painkillers written in North Carolina last year, which is the equivalent for one per person in the state. Although 700 million pills were prescribed, those who they were prescribed to are using a mere fraction of them.

He went on to highlight another bill, the Synthetic Opioid Control Act, which would make a type of fentanyl -- which is currently legal in North Carolina -- illegal. Stein added that they need to design it to cover all derivatives of fentanyl which could be created.

“We’re playing whack-a-mole right now and we’re trying to address that,” he said.

Stein added that only one out of 10 people who needed treatment got it last year.

“These are real lives, real families that are being destroyed,” said Sgt. David Rose, of the Winston-Salem Police Department.

Forsyth County EMS said they administered Narcan 930 times in 2016, compared to 90 in 2012. EMS and Winston-Salem police say they’re working together to figure out how to help people after they’ve saved them with Narcan.

“We just can’t send them on their way,” Lt. William Penn said.

EMS added that they are working to improve their response times when someone overdoses.

“We can’t arrest our way, in terms of users, out of this problem,” Forsyth County Sheriff Bill Schatzman said. “We need to put a bigger emphasis on education.”

Schatzman suggested using social media to educate younger generations about the dangers of opioids.

Randall Galyon, an Assistant U.S. District Attorney, spoke about the importance of funding for things like “buy money,” which is used by law enforcement to purchase drugs from dealers and pay informants.

“The Winston-Salem Police Department has been a part of that,” he said.

Doctors from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center spoke of children as young as 7 years old being treated after taking their parent’s medications, and dozens of babies requiring monitoring well after discharge because their mothers were substance abusers. However, they also spoke about how they utilize the Controlled Substance Reporting Service, which has led to less users coming to the center in search of prescriptions.

“In order to get your brain neuropathways to begin to return anything close to normal, it’s a minimum of six months,” Stein said, during a discussion of a lack of treatment options in the area.

He also detailed the cost of sending someone to jail, versus sending them to treatment, saying putting someone behind bars is four times more expensive than putting them somewhere they can get help. Stein also said more children are being taken into foster care because their parents are addicts.

“That’s just an incredible cost, not to only the taxpayer, but to that child,” he said.

Stein added that the state will be putting together a resource manual, from roundtables such as this in other parts of the state, which will help with idea sharing in search of solutions.

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