Members of the Brunswick County Opioid Task Force know law enforcement actions alone can’t stop the addiction epidemic from taking lives and destroying families and communities.
That’s why Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram and Superior Resident Court Judge Ola Lewis established the task force last year with parents who have lost children to addiction, health care providers and treatment center representatives. The members have seen firsthand that rural counties like Brunswick lack treatment options and other resources that can inhibit the fight against addiction and the crime and loss of life it brings with it.
“Pulling together resources from many different organizations – faithbased, mental health, treatment facilities – then establishing a strategic plan and moving forward with that plan is definitely taking us in the right direction,” Ingram said. “We know that this problem is more than just an individual’s problem; it’s a community’s problem, and it will take a community working together to fix it.”
The Brunswick County group’s efforts come as their counterparts in the region and even nationally are organizing to address the issue. Law enforcement officials, health providers and elected officials in New Hanover County also formed a task force to attempt to find solutions.
Last month, Gov. Roy Cooper and state Attorney General Josh Stein visited Wilmington to discuss the opioid epidemic, the same week the Trump Administration declared it a national public health emergency.
On Oct. 16, Don Flattery, chairman of the Brunswick County Opioid Task Force, presented the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners with the group’s first recommendations to help meet the county’s unique challenges in the fight against opioid abuse and addiction including the call for $590,000 for a local treatment center.
Flattery, who also served on a nationwide taskforce and has testified before Congress about the national addiction crisis, was invited to Washington, D.C., last month for Trump’s speech on the national emergency declaration.
Flattery said the problem has to be addressed at all levels: federal, state and local and that the declaration was a step in the right direction.
“Despite all the attention and expense put into fighting the crisis, things continue to get worse,” he said after returning from Washington. “What we’re doing is not working. We need the county task force as part of the puzzle, but there are certain things that have to come out of the federal government and certain things that have to come out of North Carolina, which is taking some positive steps.”
During his presentation to commissioners, Flattery said the task force also recommends that the county hire a prevention manager to coordinate efforts with various departments and report to commissioners quarterly. The manager would also be charged with contacting someone immediately following an overdose and connecting them to resources, under the proposal.
The task force called for allocating more than $1 million to meet the goals.
“Brunswick County has a serious problem, and it’s growing. I hope we made an impression on the commissioners that the outlook is bleak here,” he said.
Commissioners did not vote on the funding during the meeting, but Commissioners Chairman Frank Williams said recently the board plans to seriously consider the recommendations during the 2018-19 budget planning process.
“We appreciate the hard work the Opioid Task Force has invested in researching potential solutions to this critical problem,” Williams said. “We will take their ideas and recommendations into consideration as we move into the process of developing our next budget.
“Further, our staff is continually looking for ways to reallocate or more effectively utilize existing resources to attack problems such as this.”
Ingram said the recommendations should make a “significant difference” in the fight against addiction.
“From a law enforcement perspective, we realized some time ago that we cannot ‘arrest away’ this problem,” the sheriff added. “We too are thinking outside the box and are working on establishing some ways to get those who want treatment safely into a facility. We recently began a new program, the Anchor Initiative, that will provide those who want help a way to safely get into a treatment facility.”
Lewis said she knows commissioners understand the significance of the task force’s goals.
“We already have a successful treatment court in Brunswick County. Now we want to venture outside the courthouse into the community,” she said. “The commissioners understand the benefits of a healthy workforce, and they have demonstrated that by their support of treatment court.”
Task force members say involving community stakeholders including both large and small businesses is necessary.
“The business community benefits by helping their employees to become productive members of the workforce. They will have an employee with a strong sense of work ethics, someone who will be at work on time with fewer absences,” she said.
Brunswick County hospitals Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center in Bolivia and Dosher Memorial Hospital in Southport have implemented new guidelines to opioid prescriptions in an effort to reduce abuse and overuse of opioids in the region.
Last month, New Hanover Regional Medical Center also implemented similar guidelines.
“The new guidelines establish a system that allows for opioids to be used for effective pain management while setting more structure around when they are prescribed and for how long,” according to an NHRMC news release.