As opioid overdose numbers soar in Cabarrus County, AG talks about solutions

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has been making his way around the state holding roundtable discussions about the opioid epidemic. Tuesday, he listened to what the Cabarrus County community had to say.

An emotional Concord police chief was among those who took the mic.

"I have a 14 and 17 year old son and I'm afraid for them," said Chief Gary Gacek. "I'm a police chief. Come from a good family and this stuff does not discriminate."

Debbie Dalton also stood in front of Stein clinging to a large photograph. A year ago, her 23-year-old son overdosed on cocaine mixed with Fentanyl.

"I held his hand for seven days in the hospital, but he never regained consciousness," she said.

The epidemic has ravaged communities across the country and Cabarrus County is no exception. According to EMS, they recorded 163 heroin overdoses in 2016. That number jumped to 581 the next year.

"We're failing as a nation, as communities and as a state to provide sufficient resources to offer treatment to folks, but if we do that work, we can address this problem," Stein said.

Stein has made the opioid crisis a priority by taking part in lawsuits against drug companies and supporting the STOP Act, a piece of legislation passed in 2017 restricting the amount of painkillers doctors can prescribe for acute injuries such as broken arms or wisdom teeth.

"It used to be doctors could write a prescription for 30 days, which was just crazy because the extras would go in the medicine cabinet and people would mess around with them and get addicted," he explained.

Stein, like many addiction experts, wants the epidemic to be looked at through a mental health lens and supports the effort to get offenders out of jail and into treatment.

"The police chief here in Concord said in 27 years in law enforcement this is the most serious public safety issue he's ever seen. So this is a real problem and we're asking our law enforcement to be drug counselors and mental health professionals, that's who's in our jails right now," Stein said. "It would be much more effective to provide treatment for people with mental health issues and substance abuse issues. He's also an advocate for easier access to medicated assisted treatment."

Last October, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, but Stein says he has seen little progress since then.

"I think it's positive and it helped shine a light on how serious the issue is, but the federal government has put no money of any significance in the last year and a half," he said.

Despite challenges communities across the state are facing, Stein says he remains "very confident" they can turn the tide on the epidemic.

"It's not going to be in 2018 and it may not be in 2019 because it's deep seeded and there's a long tail on this problem, but we can fix this," he said.

When asked if he had a message for families who are affected by the disease and whose loved ones are struggling with addiction, Stein's message was simple: "That we care. That we're working our tails off to solve this problem."

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