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Gov. Roy Cooper made a visit to Wilson on Friday to sit down with local leaders and stakeholders to get insight on how Wilson County has united to fight the ever-growing opioid crisis.
Representatives from several Wilson agencies and organizations told the governor about programs they’ve initiated to create lasting changes not only for those who suffer from substance use disorders but for their families as well. The meeting was held at RC3, the Recovery Concepts Community Center.
“You are saving lives and improving people’s health and moving North Carolina forward,” Cooper told the crowd after hearing about numerous programs here. “What you’re doing in Wilson County is part of the reason why I came today, to hear from you as to some of things you’re finding that work and don’t work, particularly in the area of substance use disorder.”
Cooper said in addition to the state’s action plan regarding opioids, he knows a lot of the real work happens at the community level. Cooper said the visit was not only about taking what Wilson is doing and sharing those ideas with others but also talking with leaders on how the state can help them in their efforts.
“Substance use disorder is affecting people’s lives,” he said. “We are losing people to the opioid crisis at an unprecedented rate.”
Leaders gave individual updates on programs Wilson has implemented, including the efforts of nonprofits RC3, the Hope Alliance, the syringe exchange program and the initiative to arm law enforcement with naloxone kits.
Since RC3 opened in October, more than 700 visitors have come through the center. Nine people who came through the Hope Alliance program via the Wilson Police Department have not only been through detox but are now in long-term treatment. Wilson County Health Director Teresa Ellen said there have been 26 participants in the syringe exchange program so far, and more than 340 clean needles have been given out.
Erin Day, Wilson County Substance Prevention Coalition executive director, told the governor that for more than a decade, the county has invested in the organization’s efforts.
“About four years ago, we began to look at how to marry prevention and recovery,” Day said. She said through the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson, community partners were able to establish RC3 last year.
“There are only a handful of community recovery centers in North Carolina,” she said, adding that Wilson has always been a forward-thinking place when it comes to helping those in need and addressing issues that affect so many lives. She also said building a community for sustained recovery though RC3 will be a game-changer.
Day told the governor she was proud of the Wilson community after reading the state’s opioid action plan.
“We are hitting so many of those efforts in our county,” she said. “It means a lot for our county to understand the change we are trying to make.”
Day said Wilson’s success has been the commitment the agencies have to creating change here.
“It’s about identifying the capacity you have in your own community to make that change,” she said. “We are doing the most with what we have.”
‘FINDING SOLUTIONS THAT WORK’
Sheriff Calvin Woodard and Wilson Police Capt. Jeff Boykin gave a rundown on how law enforcement is working with not only the Wilson County Substance Prevention Coalition but also with others in the community, including RC3.
Woodard said while deputies do have an arrest perspective on dealers here, his office has taken a bigger leap into the community in engaging with those who have substance use disorders and getting them help.
“We’ve been able to turn some people over to RC3 and make contact,” he said. “If someone in the community needs help, we can just make a call. We are sending them in the direction to seek treatment. To me, it’s a tremendous program.”
Boykin said the police department has had great success in federal and local prosecutions of the dealers supplying opioids and heroin.
He said the people who were in the room Friday were passionate about solving issues regarding the epidemic.
“That, to me, is what is making a huge difference in our community,” Boykin said. “The fact that we are meeting and talking and finding solutions that work.”
County Board of Commissioners Chairman Rob Boyette said multiple partners have found a way in Wilson County to talk with each other and not just remain in their silos, but they are going one step further and coming up with action plans to make Wilson better for its residents.
State Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, said the $10 million the General Assembly has appropriated for the opioid crisis is just the beginning.
“This is a national issue, and I’m glad to see Wilson on top of this national concern,” she said, adding lawmakers know the critical need and the impact substance use can have on families. She said Wilson is ahead of the game, and together, stakeholders have worked diligently to make some positive things happen here.
Cooper said the state’s action plan is also aimed at working with others at the local level.
“We want to work with health care providers, law enforcement, emergency personnel and others to make this continue to work,” he said.