Confronting Carter County’s opioid crisis

Published 8:37 am Monday, August 7, 2017

It may be a story that many Carter County residents have grown tired of, but the opioid addiction crisis is, perhaps, the gravest medical challenge to face this county, state, and region. It’s a story we as well as our elected officials and public health officials must pay attention to before it blows up in our faces.
Many of the cases that go through the General Sessions Court of Carter County are drug-related. The court system is full of cases dealing with drug users, thefts associated with drug users, and other crimes such as assault.
Approximately 150 people attended a community forum held earlier this week to address the issue. More than once, it was stressed that opioid abuse is a community problem, it is an epidemic, and the whole community must join the fight — the church, law enforcement, families, medical personnel, schools, etc.
Opioids are among the most addictive of drugs: With prolonged use, the body quickly develops a tolerance for the drug, forcing the patient to take a higher and higher dose to get the same level of pain control.
The danger for persons addicted to opioids is twofold. First, it is very easy to accidently overdose on opioids, and if a counteracting drug is not quickly administered, those overdoses, more often than not, are fatal. Second, the person suffering from opioid addiction is going to attempt to get the drug in his system as quickly and as cheaply as possible, usually through intravenous use of needles. And the last thing an addict is concerned about is whether the needle is clean, thereby leading to rapidly rising cases of hepatitis C and HIV infection.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that 55 percent of painkillers are actually obtained free due to a friend or relative while only 17.3 percent of painkillers abused comes from prescriptions from doctors.
Addiction doesn’t care who you are. It happens in the best of families and in every community. It doesn’t care whether you are young or old. The opioid addiction crisis is deadly serious. In 2015, more than 50,000 people died from opioid overdose — more than died on the nation’s highways.
But all across America, people are dying every day because of opioid overdoses. Treatment programs are filled to capacity with people seeking medical aid in being weaned off these drugs. And those programs themselves are strapped for funds to meet the demand for treatment.
In 2015, there were 12 reported overdose deaths in Carter County from drugs. This is a startling number for a city the size of Elizabethton, and like the rest of the nation, the situation is only intensifying in severity.
It was good to see this community come together to fight an evil that is destroying lives and homes. The opioid crisis isn’t something that just sprang up out of nowhere in 2016; rather, it’s been running roughshod in mostly rural regions of the country for a decade or longer, building in intensity. It is an issue that will require commitment, education, and vigilance.
The Elizabethton Police Department and the Carter County Sheriff’s Office have long held prescription drug “take-back days” in conjunction with national efforts to encourage residents to bring any unused prescription drugs by their offices for proper disposal. And local treatment and addiction services providers have had programs in place to help people break their addictions. They have just been overwhelmed by the need, though.
Education of the medical community and the general public, increased access to treatment with better follow-up, and curtailing the widespread availability of these drugs are the only things that will break the back of this health emergency. Unfortunately, things are likely to get worse before they get better, both here in Elizabethton and nationally.

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