CONCORD, N.C. (WBTV) - From Cabarrus County: Cabarrus County Government and Cabarrus Health Alliance recently hosted a County Leadership Forum on Opioid Abuse. Local elected leaders and other key partners discussed ways to address opioid abuse in the community.
The meeting included first responder staff and elected leaders from Concord, Harrisburg, Kannapolis, Mt. Pleasant and Midland, Cardinal Innovations, Carolinas HealthCare System, Kannapolis and Cabarrus school boards, Rowan Cabarrus Community College, District Court Judges, Cabarrus County District Attorney's Office and Daymark Recovery Services.
Cabarrus County EMS Director Alan Thompson talked about how opioid abuse has pushed his department in a new direction.
"Cabarrus County is currently number one in NC for opiate overdoses based on emergency room admissions," said Thompson. "Our busiest day we treated 17 overdoses."
Thompson went on the share the strain opioid overdose puts on Cabarrus' first responders.
"The men and women of EMS are here to save lives—but they are also humans and it's affected them physically and emotionally. You can see this toll on their faces every day," he said.
Responses don't come without cost. The monthly budget for naloxone, the drug used to revive overdose patients, is more than the combined total of all the other medications used by paramedics.
Cabarrus County already had tools in place. Leaders were quick to recognize the opioid overdose trend was rising in other areas of the country and began making program adjustments in 2015.
Currently, there are three medication drop-off boxes for residents to dispose of expired or unnecessary narcotics. Household prescription drugs contribute to the epidemic because most abusers get the drugs from an unknowing friend or relative.
The Cabarrus Health Alliance has instituted a syringe exchange program, which is one of the most effective ways to decrease the transmission rates of HIV and other blood-borne diseases. The program also connects hard-to-reach residents and puts them in touch with other services.
The City of Concord Police Chief Gary Gacek has instituted a naloxone administration program for law enforcement because they are often the first to arrive on an overdose call.
"Naloxone is easy to administer, and is saving not only the users life, but could aid in assistance to another first responder who has an accidental exposure," said Gacek.
Despite the resources to combat opiate overuse, the crisis continues to grow. The Cabarrus Health Alliance challenged forum participants to come up with new ideas to overcome this strain on our community.
For 30 minutes, participants used their wide range of disciplines to brainstorm ideas that could make an impact on this complex issue.
Some common concepts included more outreach and education to the public, diversion courts to address low-level drug crime and peer support.
"Collaboration is the biggest strength of Cabarrus," said Steve Morris, Chair of the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners. "We must continue to strengthen these partnerships in order to make systematic changes to the way we address opioid abuse and overuse."
The Cabarrus County Leadership Forum on Opioid Abuse is part of a presidential Initiative established by the President of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) and Davidson County Commissioner Fred McClure. Earlier this year, McClure called on all counties throughout the state to bring together local elected officials and other leaders for an informed discussion on ways to combat the opioid crisis. NCACC is supporting the effort by providing planning materials and technical assistance to enable each county to hold their own forum. The ideas shared at the forums will be available for public review at www.ncacc.org/opioidforum.