Our Opinion: Uniting stakeholders to overcome opioid epidemic in Wilson

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Opioid addiction is plaguing our community, but when stakeholders band together, we can help Wilson County residents reclaim their independence from prescription painkillers.

Distributed with today’s edition of The Wilson Times is the premiere edition of Conquer, a magazine that examines the opioid epidemic in greater Wilson and offers recovery resources to individuals with substance use disorders and their loved ones.

Coverage of this important public safety and community health issue is nothing new to the Times, but we’ve decided to increase our focus on the opioid crisis and present our reporting on the subject in a condensed, reader-friendly format with a longer shelf life than a single edition of the daily paper.

In its 32 pages, Conquer contains a brief glossary of terms common in the recovery community, an update on the Wilson County Health Department's syringe exchange program, a primer on insurance coverage for substance use rehabilitation programs, information on naloxone, a lifesaving drug that can reverse heroin and opioid overdoses, a review of Wilson’s Hope Alliance program and a profile on Cora Harper, who is rebuilding her life after a harrowing drug addiction.

Conquer is a collaboration between The Wilson Times’ newsroom and special sections department and was planned and produced in consultation with the Wilson County Substance Prevention Coalition.

For many opioid and heroin users, dependence starts with a health condition requiring care for acute or chronic pain and a valid prescription for drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine. The powerful medications often result in addiction, driving users to buy pills illegally and ultimately to use heroin, a street drug that can be cheaper than its synthetic chemical counterparts.

More than 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2016, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2015 alone, the drugs claimed more than 33,000 American lives, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse says they are the culprit in more than 115 deaths every day.

For the past several years, law enforcement agencies, rescue squads and fire departments have been equipping first responders with naloxone, which can revive users experiencing overdoses that may otherwise be fatal.

A small-town Massachusetts police chief, Leonard Campanello, realized that officers couldn’t arrest their way out of the opioid crisis and started a drug treatment intake program in June 2015. He made headlines for inviting users to surrender their stash at the police station without fear of prosecution, but the cornerstone of Campanello’s Angel Initiative was the use of police officers to secure detox and long-term recovery placements and connect users with support groups and personal sponsors.

The neighboring town of Nashville became the first North Carolina community to start a similar police-assisted recovery program. The Hope Initiative is now two years old and has served 320 patients.

Wilson police joined with the county health and social services departments and local nonprofits to launch a collaborative recovery effort, the Hope Alliance, in September 2017.

Strategies to curtail opioid and heroin use have only continued to intensify. The General Assembly passed the STOP Act, which imposed limits on painkiller prescriptions to reduce the risk of dependence, last summer. Reps. Susan Martin, R-Wilson, and Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, threw their weight behind the bipartisan reform.

Some North Carolina counties are currently suing pharmaceutical companies over allegations that they misled doctors and patients about opioids’ addictive properties and irresponsibly marketed the drugs, leading to widespread overprescription.

While policymakers continue to grapple with the opioid crisis, we seek to support harm reduction and recovery efforts here in Wilson County and help unite cops, counselors, paramedics and other professionals on the front lines.

We believe Wilson can conquer the opioid epidemic and hope today’s issue of Conquer magazine will provide our readers with vital information that will help our community achieve that goal together.