Savanna Harris, Staff Writer
The opioid crisis is an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent here in our country. In 2016, there were over 63,600 overdose deaths in the United States alone, and more than two million people here are thought to be dependant on opioids, which are defined as drugs that replicate the pain-relieving effects of opium, such as morphine and oxycodone.
In order to raise awareness about this increasingly worrisome situation, the Batte Center here at Wingate University hosted a Lyceum this past Sunday, March 18, the third Lyceum in what is being called the Engaged Citizenship Series.
Throughout the program, a panel of ten speakers in total shared compelling information, as well as personal stories, regarding the crisis. Eddie Cathey of the Union County Sheriff’s Department began by saying, “We cannot arrest our way out of this.”
One major cause for this seemingly sudden crisis is the evolution of drugs that people are using. They have changed from what is expected, such as heroin and cocaine, to substances like bath salts and counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
The main reason for this change is research chemicals, which are chemicals used by scientists specifically for research and scientific purposes. They are more toxic and therefore more dangerous than other drugs, and due to their scientific necessity, can cheaply and easily be ordered online. Ann Hamlin, who worked as a forensic scientist for more than 30 years, summarized this perfectly by giving the statement, “The normal rules do not apply anymore.”
In order to provide a personal aspect, Wesley Keziah, who is a former addict, and Stephanie Cox, whose son died of an overdose, spoke next. Wesley described the way his addiction began with a prescription for oxycodone following back surgery. By age 19, he had transitioned to using heroin.
According to him, “It was normal to be high.” He went on to say that he was in and out of the Union County legal system more than 80 times, and that he tried to get help but was never sure where to go for it, and that he overall felt misinformed about the true consequences of drug use. Thankfully, however, he is now three and a half years sober, is married with four children, and teaches addiction ministry.
Stephanie Cox then told the heartbreaking story of her son, Trenton Phillips’ death. On May 12, 2015, he died of a heroin overdose. She recounted how they thought that Trenton’s addiction was under control, but went on to say, “I was fatally naive.”
Wesley and Trenton’s stories were both local. Many people who attended the Lyceum, including myself, were surprised to discover how strongly the opioid crisis is affecting not only our country, but Union County as well.
In 2017, there were 372 drug-related arrests in Union County, and the number of arrests and deaths continue to rise as the years pass. Contrary to popular belief, the most prevalent age group these arrests and deaths are occuring in is not young adults, but rather people age 50 and over.
However, the problem is beginning to be seen in young people and in schools. According to Jarrod McCraw of Union County Public Schools, there are approximately 43,000 students in the county, and school officials are seeing alcohol, marijuana, and Xanax frequently appear among them.
Abusing these substances can lead to the abuse of those that are even more damaging, as well as acting as a gateway for other crimes, such as stealing, human trafficking, driving while under the influence, and murder. Trey Robinson, who is the Union County District Attorney, said that, “Our courts are filled with drug-related cases.”
Nevertheless, all hope is not lost. Measures are being taken at both a local and state level to combat and end this crisis. Operation Medicine Drop is in place for people to properly dispose of prescription pills that are no longer needed.
An opioid crisis hotline is being proposed. A nasal spray called NARCAN, which is an emergency Naloxone treatment for overdoses, is now in use. This is greatly beneficial, seeing as in order for a doctor to administer Suboxone and Methadone, which are other overdose treatments, they are required to receive special training and are therefore few and far between.
Additionally, Representative Craig Horn of North Carolina House District 68 said that they are working to limit the length of time that drugs are prescribed to five to seven days maximum, thus reducing the number of pills prescribed annually. In 2016 in North Carolina, this number was 555,000,000.
They are also trying to get rid of prescription pads and lessen the number of prescription drug commercials that are legally allowed to be shown on television. All in all, remarkable efforts are being made towards bringing this crisis to an end.
Edited by: Brea Childs