SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - A major event regarding the opioid crisis in Rowan County took place on Wednesday. Community leaders from a variety of agencies in the county participated in the special forum held at the Rowan County Cooperative Extension.
"The treatment, how to we rehabilitate people to become productive citizens, that's what this room is full of people today that hopefully we can figure this out," said Rowan Sheriff Kevin Auten. "If we do the same thing, we're going to get the same result and that's not working right now, so sure they're criminals and we need to arrest people for selling drugs and using drugs and abusing their children, after that, we've got to figure out how to change that behavior."
According to Rowan County Commission Chairman Greg Edds, there have been 72 opioid related emergency room visits between January and July of 2017, compared to 33 for the same time period in 2016.
In addition, there has been a sharp rise in the number of overdose calls that police, firefighters, and emergency medical workers are responding to on a weekly basis.
"Community wide education regarding the proper use and risks of prescription drugs is essential to lowering misuse and accidental overdose," Edds wrote, "as is having ready access to reliable treatment and recovery supports."
The forum was open to all elected officials in Rowan County, as well as "representatives from key organizations." Approximately 75 individuals were present.
Delton Russell has been in recovery since 1996 and works with Cardinal Innovations. Russell shared his personal story of addiction and ongoing recovery.
"They often talk about what addiction took away from, I believe it's important to talk about what recovery has given me," Russell said. "I can tell you that recovery is real and recovery has allowed me to address my depression and my trauma."
"We can learn the full effect of the opioid crisis on our county's citizens," Edds wrote, find out what resources are available to help our families, and develop collaborative strategies for effective education, prevention, and treatment that can and will make a difference here in Rowan County."
Following remarks by several speakers, groups held discussions to come up with ideas to address the issue. One of the most popular ideas, based on crowd response, was mentioned by Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce.
The idea his group came up with was to have pharmaceutical companies share the burden of the cost of education and treatment.
"So that these manufacturers that are making these billions of dollars off of the suffering of all those people and payback and hopefully end this," Pierce said.
The forum was coordinated by Nina Oliver and the Rowan County Health Department.