Mecklenburg County health officials say more than 525 people came to emergency rooms with opioid overdoses in the county last year. That’s about a 45 percent increase from the previous year. Across North Carolina in 2017, emergency rooms reported a nearly 40 percent increase in visits for opioid overdoses. Mecklenburg County government and partner agencies will host a summit Thursday to address the growing opioid crisis.
Assistant County Health Director Connie Mele joined WFAE’s Mark Rumsey to discuss the issue. Here are the highlights:
The number of deaths each year from opioid overdoses is increasing. Mele:
In 2015, we had 61 deaths. And in 2016, we had 121 deaths. So the number is going up and we don't have the numbers for 2017 yet.
Mele on what is causing the increases in opioid overdoses:
There's a number of factors that have contributed to [the increase in overdoses]. One of them is that many of the opioids are bought on the streets - very possibly heroin - and are laced with Fentanyl, which can be very deadly. And so in talking with health care officials and the Mecklenburg County examiner, we certainly know that that's contributed to the deaths in this community. People also get opiates from their physicians for pain management. They sometimes end up having problems with the opiates and taking more than is prescribed. That can end up in an overdose situation.
Mele on what North Carolina lawmakers are doing:
The NC Stop Act was initiated and passed in July of this past year. Part of what that does is it limits the physician to only being able to give five days of pain medicine for an acute pain episode. There are those kinds of safeguards.
Mele on what healthcare providers are doing:
One of the areas we focused on last year was to partner with Charlotte Area Health Education Center and Carolinas HealthCare to work with one of their addiction specialists to develop a web-based training that physicians could take in specialty practices. [Through the training] they could understand the process of opiate addiction: what happens and how it occurs, and to present to them safer prescribing practices.