Over the past 10 years, drug abuse has become a major problem for Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin counties. The tri-county area has seen a spike in pain medication addiction, accidental overdoses, and the making and selling of narcotics.
In 2008, Wilkes County saw an increase in drug use that put it at number six in the country for the worst drug use. In 2009, the unintentional poisoning mortality rate in Wilkes County was quadruple that of the state’s and due almost exclusively to prescription opioid pain relievers, including fentanyl, hydrocodone, methadone and oxycodone. According to the Wilkes County Community Health Assessment for 2015, Wilkes Regional Medical Center’s admissions of drug dependence increased by 12 percent from 2012 to 2014. In 2012, 20 people were admitted, while 32 were admitted in 2013, and 36 were admitted in 2014. Opioid dependence increased from nine admissions in 2012, to 15 in 2013, and 26 in 2014.
According to research collected by Wilkes County, 53 people committed suicide between 2009 and 2013, the 12th highest cause of death for the county. Between 2009 and 2013, Wilkes County also saw a spike in unintentional deaths with reports of 170 deaths, the fourth highest cause of death in the county.
Though drugs are still a problem in Wilkes County, there has been a slow decrease for the number of deaths related to pain medication. Researchers for the Wilkes County Health Assessment in 2009 saw 46 (per 100,0000) deaths as a result of unintentional poisonings or overdoses. In 2010, the number of deaths decreased to 24.5 (per 100,000), and they decreased even more as Wilkes County had only seven (per 100,000) deaths from unintentional overdoses in 2011.
In 2010, Project Lazarus came to life and became a vital part in fighting drug abuse in Wilkes County. There was a decrease in the number of people who received prescriptions for certain substances. In 2008, 82 percent of overdose dependents received a prescription for an opioid from a Wilkes County prescribe while in 2010, that number decreased to 10 percent.
Wilkes County has several different options for helping the community battle substance abuse. Wilkes County Schools has established substance abuse prevention teams, and the schools are helping provide education on substance abuse in various schools. Project Lazarus Wilkes Youth Coalition, and Lazarus Recovery Services provide a variety of services to Wilkes County residents. Wilkes County also has set up medication disposal drop boxes around the county. The boxes are located within law-enforcement agencies and medical centers. It’s a way for Wilkes County to keep medications off the streets, out of the environment and out of water systems.
While Wilkes County has made headlines for its county’s drug abuse, Surry County has had its fair share of accidental overdoses and other drug-related abuses. According to Surry County’s Community Health Assessment, the community’s biggest substance abuse came from alcohol, with over 23 percent of the community reporting an alcohol problem. The second biggest substance abuser was drug use, with 22 percent of the community reporting drug abuse problems. In a community survey sent out in 2014, the top three biggest substance abuse problems reported were from marijuana, alcohol and methamphetamine.
In 2010 and 2011, Yadkin County saw an increase in drug-related arrests, deaths and EMS calls. In 2010, 54 accidental deaths were reported, while 78 accidental deaths were reported in 2011. For James Collins, the operations manager for the Yadkin County EMS, the drug problem goes back to the late 1990s.
“This goes back a long ways. Drugs have always been a problem,” said Collins. “You have patients requesting drugs that they see on TV, and doctors that try to keep their patients happy.”
According to the Yadkin County Community Health Assessment for 2014, 49 deaths in Yadkin County from 2009 to 2013 were related to drug use with 38 of those deaths ruled unintentional. Most of the unintentional poisonings were from a form of narcotics — heroine, cocaine, prescription drugs, etc.
According to Collins, the Yadkin County EMS has ran 46 calls from Jan. 1 to July 25 of this year which are related to drug ingestion and substance abuse. So far this year, a total of 32 drug-related calls have come through to the Yadkin County EMS, that number does not include the drug calls which are routed to the sheriff’s office.
“We see more prescription drug overdoses than alcohol or any other kind of drug,” said Collins.
In Yadkin County, several emergency personnel carry Naloxone, a drug which helps a person who has overdosed and keeps them breathing. The use of Naloxone by the Yadkin EMS has slowly increased over the past few years. The EMS averaged around 50 Naloxone doses a year until 2015-2016, as they have had to give 81 doses in the past year alone.
“What worries me about Naloxone is that it’s not a cure for drugs,” said Collins. “If I administer the drug to someone and walk away, then two hours later they could be in the same situation. There could be issues down the road.”
Prescription drug addiction is not just a local problem, it’s a widespread problem across the United States. According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control in June, the three most common drugs involved in prescription overdose were methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin), and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin). Every day, over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.
Kristian Russell can be reached at 336-258-4052 or on Twitter @YadkinElkSports.