Some new resources are being unleashed to combat the growing opioid crisis in Surry County, including a “Lock Your Meds” initiative to prevent access by kids.
“We are just seeing a spike in the youths that are stealing medications,” Program Specialist Sean Halstead of a Winston-Salem agency, Insight Human Services, said during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners last Thursday.
Halstead was there with another Insight Human Services representative, Erica Harger, to update city officials on the local implications of millions in grant funding being made available last year to North Carolina through the federal 21st Century Cures Act.
As part of that state-targeted effort, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services received more than $15 million from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant money is being used to address the opioid crisis in communities around the state which have experienced higher rates of overdose deaths than North Carolina as a whole.
“Unfortunately, Surry County is one of those counties,” said Halstead, who is joining with Harger in serving as CURES grant coordinators in Surry on behalf of Insight Human Services. It is a non-profit organization that provides programs addressing substance misuse and mental health issues in 60 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
As part of its work on behalf of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the Insight coordinators will be partnering with various community-based partners in Surry to implement strategies to prevent prescription opioid misuse and illicit use.
They include representatives from the local recovery community, law enforcement, health care, schools, higher-education institutions and others.
Some of these strategies include:
• Providing training for drug providers to learn about safer prescribing options and using the Controlled Substance Reporting System. It was established by North Carolina law to improve the state’s ability to identify people who abuse and misuse prescription drugs.
• More take-back events and permanent medication drop boxes to safely collect and dispose of medications that are no longer needed. Halstead pointed out last week that the Mount Airy Police Department, Surry County Sheriff’s Office and at least one local pharmacy already serve as collection points.
The take-back effort also includes plans to increase chemical medication disposal systems for organizations serving end-of-life/late-in-life clients.
• Parents 360 Rx presentations, which are geared toward parents, grandparents and care-givers of youths to raise awareness of the dangers surrounding misusing prescription and illicit opioids among younger individuals. This initiative stresses the importance of using medications as prescribed, securely storing drugs in the home and properly disposing of those no longer needed.
Lock ’em up
The latter step reflects one of the main thrusts of the new CURES program targeting Surry County, the Lock Your Meds media campaign and other efforts to promote secure drug storage.
This includes increasing the availability of medication lock boxes for families who are at a heightened risk for prescription drug abuse.
“We are talking to parents and grandparents about locking up their medications,” Halstead said. This concern is based on the increasing trend of youths using home medicine cabinets as a source for drugs, based on their comments to substance-abuse counselors or others with whom they later cross paths.
“Kids are saying they’re taking medications not prescribed to them,” Halstead added regarding the need to curtail that practice. “We are targeting the youths, but it’s going to involve the young adults as well.”
Locking up medications reduces temptation and creates an “out of sight, out of mind” scenario, according to Halstead.
Mount Airy officials seemed pleased that a new push has begun to tackle what is arguably the biggest problem in Surry County at this time, the opioid crisis.
“This is work that needs to be done,” Mayor David Rowe told Halstead and Harger, with Commissioner Jim Armbrister also expressing appreciation.
However, Commissioner Shirley Brinkley questioned the ability of program officials to measure the effectiveness of the grant funding in reaching people and preventing overdose deaths.
“We won’t know for sure until later,” Halstead responded.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.