On August 11, 2016 two Burke Substance Abuse Network (BSAN) members traveled to Raleigh to attend the National Attorney General Training and Research Institute (NAGTRI) Curbing Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Training.
Joe Marks, Executive Director of Burke Recovery and Sarah Dergins, Prevention Specialist for Burke Recovery, shook hands with North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper on Thursday morning before the training kicked off. Attorney General Cooper was familiar the fine work of the Burke Substance Abuse Network (BSAN) on the state level and relayed his gratitude for the work BSAN has accomplished. Marks made sure to share a flyer and invitation for the upcoming Burke Rally for Recovery on September 18th with the gubernatorial candidate.
Attorney General Cooper opened the day discussing the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. “Because it is legal, many people assume it’s safe; but we know these prescription drugs (opiates) are addictive and can be more dangerous than street drugs,” he said. Cooper went on to discuss solutions for this crisis stating, “educating parents that their kids have access to drugs in their homes, and in their friends homes, and that these drugs, particularly opioids, need to be under lock and key.” He went on to state the importance of helping kids understand the law. “When you explain to kids that giving their friends even one prescription pill is a felony, you see their eyes get wide.”
Following Roy Cooper, was a dynamic panel featuring Chris Fletcher of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Judy Billings of the State Bureau of Investigation, and Scott Proescholdbell of the Injury and Prevention Branch of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. All three panelists shared data emphasizing that North Carolina is one of the top states in the nation for overdose deaths. From 2010 to 2015, there has been a 881% increase in heroin overdose deaths in North Carolina. For every heroin death, there are twice as many deaths from prescription opioids.
So how did we get here? In 1990s, the medical community recognized pain as the “fifth vital sign”. Around the same time, OxyContin, an opioid pain medication, was released onto the market. The emergence of prescription pain killers, direct to consumer advertising, and the new pressure on physicians to eliminate patient pain led to an abundance of prescription pain medications available to consumers.
What are possible solutions to the opioid and heroin epidemic? One solution may be in passing stricter laws. New York passed a law in 2012 making it mandatory for prescribers to use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), which collect, monitor, and analyze electronically transmitted prescribing and dispensing data submitted by pharmacies and dispensing practitioners. Since the law went into effect, doctor shopping has decreased by 75%, individuals receiving opioid prescriptions decreased by 10%, and the number of Buprenorphine prescriptions (a drug used to treat opioid addiction) increased by 15% in one year.
Additional solutions were presented by the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), a group that engages in grassroots advocacy, resource development, and direct services for law enforcement and those made vulnerable by drug use, sex work, overdose, immigration status, gender, STIs, HIV and hepatitis. As a result of the heroin and opioid epidemic there was a 530% increase in the cost of Hepatitis C treatment in North Carolina between 2013 and 2014. Syringes stick one in three law enforcement officers over the span of a career. The NCHRC proposes utilization of Syringe Exchange Programs. These programs reduce the chance that a syringe sticks a law enforcement officer by 66%. Additionally, those who utilize syringe exchanges are five times more likely to get into treatment than intravenous drug users who do not use the program through engagement with providers at the exchange.
The NCHRC also advocates that all first responders, including law enforcement officers carry Naloxone. Naloxone is a prescription medicine that reverses an opioid overdose, which can be caused by prescription painkillers and heroin. Naloxone cannot be used to get high and is not addictive. Naloxone has saved thousands of lives in North Carolina to date, including five in Morganton.
The ultimate solution to the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic lies in prevention. Burke Recovery has led the charge in Burke County by hiring staff who are dedicated strictly to substance abuse prevention work. Along with prevention and educational programs for Burke County Pubic Schools and the greater community, Burke Recovery offers a full range of assessment, individual, and group treatment services for adolescents, families, and adults. Burke Recovery provides recovery and wellness planning as well as complementary therapies and services regardless of a person’s ability to pay. To learn more about Burke Recovery visit BurkeRecovery.com or call 828-433-1221.
Coordinated by Burke Recovery prevention staff, passionate members of our BSAN coalition joined together to form the RxEAP (Prescription Education Awareness Prevention) Task Force. The task force is analyzing the problem of the non-medical use of prescription drugs, and strategically taking action to reduce access to prescription medication, educating the public and youth on the dangers of prescription medication misuse and abuse, and informing citizens on how they can help stop the problem.
To learn more about BSAN or RxEAP Task Force, visit bsanonline.org. The Burke Substance Abuse Network meets on the last Friday of each month for breakfast and a program at 7:30 AM at the Morganton Community House.