September 1, 2017

How one town is dealing with opioids

Governing - Wilmington, which sits along the southern swath of North Carolina’s coast and whose Antebellum homes and beautiful beaches attract thousands of tourists each year, is now the nation’s capital for opioid abuse, according to a study by Castlight, a health-care information company. More than 1 in 10 residents abuse opioids.

Between 2014 to 2016, opioid overdose deaths more than doubled  ...

Crime also increased. “We started to notice the presence of heroin on the street and the drug gangs [were] becoming more active,” says Mitch Cunningham, deputy police chief. “The number of shots fired was up, as were aggravated assaults.”

[Mayor Bill] Saffo formed a task force made up of law enforcement, medical professionals and politicians to address Wilmington’s opioid crisis. The group started its work in January and by early spring settled on a three-part plan.

Under the first part of the plan, Wilmington emergency responders will continue to carry naloxone. The drug was first deployed in the city in March 2016, and since then it has saved 87 lives and been administered more than 100 times.

But opioid users were being revived only to return immediately to using, says Cunningham. It was a revolving door. So, as part of the plan, a "rapid response team" of medical and social work professionals will visit a user within 72 hours of receiving naloxone. They will ask, not coerce or force, the user to enter treatment. If he or she refuses, the team will make additional visits until the person agrees to get help.

The rapid response team is modeled after a program in Colerain Township, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. Like in Wilmington, officials there saw a spike in opioid addictions and overdoses. Initial numbers from its rapid response program have been promising. Colerain flaunched its rapid response program in 2015, and in the first year reported a 40 percent reduction in overdoses and a 74 percent success rate in getting addicts into treatment.

Wilmington will also hire health-care navigators, says McEwen. Many of those addicted to opioids lack health care and are often not capable of wading through the reams of paperwork necessary to connect them with treatment options.

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