HAW RIVER — County commissioners, doctors, law enforcement, teachers, judges and other officials and leaders came together Thursday, May 17, to continue their discussion about opioid addiction.
The same group met in December for the first time to address the opioid epidemic in North Carolina and across the country. Six months later, they reconvened at the Lamb’s Chapel in Haw River to continue Alamance County’s response.
Alamance County Commissioner Amy Scott Galey opened the workshop while Kirk Puckett, public information officer for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, explained the goals of the workshop.
“We are going to continue the conversation from the past forum. Obviously, this is a work in progress but it is something that needs to be continued,” Puckett said. “You can’t talk about it today, walk out of this room and not talk about it anymore. We are going to align some resources and expertise to create our next action steps. We are going to engage and promote committed leadership to create a coordinated response to the opioid epidemic in Alamance County.”
Where we stand
Alamance County Commissioner Bob Byrd and Health Education Supervisor at Alamance County Health Department Arlinda Ellison provided an update from the December meeting, which address overdose deaths, Naloxone administration, policies that have since been implemented and costs.
“Today is about action steps once we leave where we are now,” Ellison said.
According to Byrd and Allison, there were 16 local overdose deaths in 2015; 19 overdose deaths in 2016; and 21 overdose deaths in 2017. As of April, there had been four deaths this year.
“Another way of looking at this issue is to look at the number of doses that our EMS department and the law enforcement is given,” Byrd said.
Narcan was administered 401 times in 2017 and has been administered 120 times in 2018 so far.
Byrd then addressed four policies that have been implemented since last year. In January, the Alamance County Health Department extended Hepatitis C clinical services. In March, the Alamance County Health Department issued a standing order for its staff to order Naloxone. In April, a social worker began working at the Alamance County jail. The Board of Commissioners recently approved a policy, Community Naloxone Program, for EMS to administer Naloxone kits to the families of a person who was recently revived with Naloxone so the family can help in the event of another overdose. That program is set to begin July 1.
Ellison also discussed costs, not only in monetary values but also costs on lives and on families.
“Of the 97 children that have been taken in DSS custody in the last 20 months, 61 children have had at least one child with a parent with an addiction to legal or illegal drugs,” Ellison said.
She also explained that DSS has received 38 notifications of substance-affected newborns born to Alamance County parents.
Results and next steps
Maryn Hayward, Elon Alamance Health Partner at Alamance Regional Medical Center, and Chloe Donohoe, Elon Alamance Health Partner at the Alamance County Health Department, talked about the results from the December forum and how those results can play into the next steps for the community to address the opioid epidemic. The two explained that the themes identified during the December meeting were honed into main ideas, which were then sorted into a proposed structure to coordinate a response to the crisis.
The crowd was then encouraged to break into four groups with moderators to discuss the goal of the group:
Prevention and Education, moderated by Ellison and Project Director of Alamance Citizens for a Drug-Free Community Karen Webb, addressed increasing community knowledge and awareness.
Harm Reduction, moderated by Director of Alamance County Emergency Medical Services Ray Vipperman and Community Engagement Specialist for Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Meredith Peffley, addressed increasing evidence based harm reduction practices and education group community safety.
Treatment, moderated by Director of HR Behavioral Health Sara Huffman, Sgt. Josh Hayes with the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office and Care Coordination Manager at Cardinal Innovations Health Care Jennnifer Jennings, addressed enhancing the treatment network.
Policy, moderated by DSS Director Susan Osborne and Burlington City Council Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Hykes, addressed establishing policies that create safe and responsible use for opioids.
After the groups met for an hour, they reconvened to share proposed action plans.
“We are in evolution”
The prevention group addressed whom the prevention and education should target.
“Our focus is a multi-pronged, multi-step approach into how we will address the prevention and education portion,” Ellison said.
She proposed collaborating with Elon University, specifically its communications department and students, to help distribute prevention and education messages; accessing funding, potentially through Health Communities Grant with the Health Department; and researching evidence-based curricula to reach students and adults in opioid prevention.
Peffley said that the harm group supported a syringe exchange program as well as mental health services in drug courts. The group realized other organizations besides EMS and law enforcement, such as Juvenile Justice, DSS and the Health Department, were involved in harm reduction and could use help acquiring the right tools to respond.
The treatment group proposed advocating for money from peer supports and drug court; advocating for more partnership and collaboration from hospitals and treatment; sharing data; bolstering providers with evidence-based practices; and putting more resources in the community.
Osborne said the policy group wanted to expand on the Community Naloxone Program as well as encourage federal workers to not price-gouge Narcan. She added the group discussed Medicaid transformation and people losing Medicaid under specific situations.
Burlington Assistant Chief Brian Long closed the workshop by focusing on the phrase “in evolution.”
“We are in evolution in a lot of different ways,” Long said.
He added that the war on drugs needed to be about the individuals suffering and that the information needed to be centralized.
“We have got to figure out a way to bring all the information together,” Long said. “I think the key is collaboration.”
Reporter Kate Croxton can be reached at email@example.com or 336-506-3078. Follow her on Twitter at @katecroxtonBTN.