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Opioid crisis in Buncombe termed severe
Sunday, 11 February 2018 12:07
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The alarming state of Buncombe County’s opioid abuse and the steps to address it was discussed by County Commissioner Ellen Frost at the Jan. 12 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners at UNCA’s Sherrill Center.

About 50 people attended the early-morning breakfast meeting.

“Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to be a heroin addict,” Frost told the CIBO gathering. “What we found is that 86 percent of heroin starts with regular prescriptions. But opiates are different. We know that some people can be addicted from a three-day prescription — that’s eight pills.

“It started in the early ‘80s. Doctors were told by the drugmakers that opiates weren’t addictive,” Frost said.

Following intense lobbying by the pharmaceutical companies, Congress “created laws to protect those physicians so if their patients became addicted they could not be sued.”

Meanwhile, in Mexico, locals were producing black tar heroin (a black, sticky substance) and “their business model was pizza delivery. … Their aim was to please, so that if people could not get opiates, they had this other prescription for black-tar heroin, Frost said.

Frost added, “Fast-forward to what we have now. In Buncombe County, you are more likely to become addicted to heroin than to buy a car. There’s no difference between heroin and other opioids. The stories are tragic, absolutely tragic.

“We know one story of a young man who had everything going for him. He had his wisdom teeth taken out. He got addicted to his oxcycodone. He OD’d (overdosed) in a bathroom at A-B Tech. The DA (district attorney) and emergency services know the toll is takes. We talk to recovering heroin addicts — and they are heroes.”

In response, she said the county “is filing a lawsuit against the drug manufacturers. We’re trying to cultivate more peer to peer support. What we know is that abstinence does not work…. But the biggest thing we’ve done is education. One message is, ‘if you go home, and you have oxcycodone (and similar drugs), take them to the (Buncombe) Sheriff’s Office.”

Frost asked everyone to remember “that 80 percent of the people addicted start with a legal prescription.”

Further, the county commissioner from Black Mountain said, “Tell a child, especially, that one Tylenol and/or one Ibuprofen” is a better and safer option than taking drugs that lead to opioid addiction. “We’re working actively with Mission (Hospital)” to encourage doctors and parents and other caregivers to encourage people to take a single Tylenol or Ibuprofen tablet instead of oxycodone.”

After a brief pause, Frost said, “To me, the only ones I can blame, are the drug manufacturers....

“The biggest thing to take from this (address) is, if you have drugs in your home, please get rid of them. If young children are having drugs prescribed, be sure they don’t take oxcycodone.

“To us,” she said in including fellow Commissioner Mike Fryar of Fairview, who was also present at the meeting, “the only way forward is through education.”

During a question-and-answer session that followed Frost’s address, a man asked, “What are the schools doing about this?”

“The schools are working on education about this,” Frost replied.

Another man queried, “Is most of the problem legal or illegal?

“It starts with legal,” Frost answered, “but once legal isn’t available anymore to them, they get them (the opioids) on the street. They get black tar heroin, but they really don’t know what they’re getting. 

“This is a disease of the brain — and that is what is so dangerous... People, at that point, all they’re trying to do is get high again.

CIBO member Mac Swicegood expressed concern about “the jail issue with the woman dying from overdose” recently.

“The sheriff (now) has a machine where people can be tested” for drugs, Frost said. “We are on that. Again, that was horrific. It was awful, absolutely awful. We are educating the jail staff.”

CIBO leader and moderator Buzzy Cannady said of Frost’s recommendation earlier to take just a single table of Tylenol or Ibuprofenor, “That’s the first I’ve heard that Tylenol is as effective” as oxycodone.

“More effective,” Frost added, succinctly, while adding that “we need more funding” to fight the opioid crisis.

For example, she said that methadone, “when it first happened” that it was prescribed for pain relief, “the same people started getting cravings — and waiting for them were our friends, selling black-tar methadone” from Mexico.

“We keep coming back to ... nobody sets out to be a heroin addict.”

What’s more, Frost asserted, “Insurance companies are the worst — halfway through, they want to end paying for treatments.

A woman asked about other possibilities, seuch as practicing abstinence, rather than taking drugs for pain relief.

“The evidence shows that abstinence doesn’t work,” Frost replied. “Remember, Tylonol, Ibuprofen, but no oxcycodone.”

In a separate address, Buncombe District Attorney Attorney Todd Williams began his portion of the CIBO program by noting that “I really appreciate with what Mrs. Frost led off with.”

He then discussed the issue he had raised about four years ago “of what could be expected from the DA office.”

To that end, Williams said, “The DA office is now committed to broadening out the scope of justice to support victims.

“On the back end, Ellen Frost spoke to drug addiction and we see this over and over again — folks who have gone through their lives without any contact with the criminal justice system” becoming drug-addicted and ending up incarcerated.

“We want to put people back on the path… Jail and prison is for truly violent offenders....” Williams add that “that’s a really broad sketch on how we move people through our justice system.”

However, he then said, “My point today is to talk about a third problem — jail diversions

After a Williams’ assistant presented a lengthy, detailed report, a man asked, “You mentioned victims. In court you talked about administrative dismissals, but that word ‘intent’ is a really good one. Dismissing people who should be in prison is one thing. How do you determine intent when, maybe, they really should be in jail?”

Williams replied, “It’s limited to Class 3 misdemeanors. I do appreciate the question, though. Even a simple assault” is of concern to the individual on the other side of it. “We’re not talking about any kind of crime that involves a victim.”

Frost interjected that the county recently spent $48 million to build a new jail and, when “this diversion program was created those incarcerated “went from 560 to 460.” 

She added, “It’s amazing the cooperation and the work. Nobody wants anyone dangerous out there.”

Taking a more skeptical stance, Swicegood said, “When I first looked at these statistics you showed me, it’s basically a ‘get out of jail free card.’ I guess it’s because of the opiates....”

Swicegood added, “When I grew up, there used to be a psychological deterrent to stand before a judge. As a society, we’ve really shot ourselves in the foot.”

Williams smiled at Swicegood and said simply, “Thank you for the remarks!”



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