SEABROOK SAYS: To Gaston County residents: You, like most, are unaware of Gaston’s problems with opiate abuse and addiction. It is bad. We rank #5 in North Carolina behind Mecklenburg County, which is #1. Read on, become aware and weep. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?
Initially, when the news started trickling out that Gaston County was one of the worst counties in North Carolina for opiate abuse and addiction, I sensed that many of my fellow residents were as unaware as I of just how deadly the epidemic was. As we have begun to educate ourselves, the news has become pretty grim. Consider this sobering statistic from the Gaston Gazette.
Gaston County remains one of the top counties in the state for heroin overdose deaths, ranking fifth in the total number of such deaths from 1999 to 2014. Seventy five people in that time period have died from heroin overdoses, putting Gaston County behind only state-leading Mecklenburg (175), Wake (109), Guilford (103) and New Hanover (97).
When reading the stats and figures , remember we are talking about someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, child or spouse. Opiate addiction does not discriminate and has permeated every race and social/economic demographic in Gaston County. In fact, one of the quickest growing demographic is white, middle class women. Whether or not we are aware, we all know someone who is struggling with this form of addiction.
How do we combat the crisis in Gaston? Fortunately, we have some of the finest law enforcement agencies and some of the most knowledgeable addiction specialist, doctors, social workers and clinicians in the state.
The DDAT (Drug Diversion and Treatment) program initiated by Chief Ramey (Gaston County Police Department) has blossomed into an all hands on deck approach to not only assist those who are addicted, but work to keep them sober with short and long term goals and programs. They correctly understand that we will not be able to incarcerate our way out of this epidemic.
Our Sheriff has partnered with CaroMont Health to provide over 500 doses of Narcan (a lifesaving drug that when administered can literally bring someone back from the brink) and is ensuring the proper training for GEMS and local deputies.
Our Gastonia City Police are also training their deputies on the use of Narcan and have been actively working with the DDAT program as well as increasing their arrests of major drug traffickers in the Gastonia.
Phoenix Counseling and other groups such as Gaston Controlled Substance Coalition, Partners Behavioral Health and the Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services have also stepped up and initiated training programs, public awareness events and treatment programs to address the epidemic.
And still we need to do more. We are making headway and lives are being saved, but as I talk with legal and clinical experts and recovering addicts; this struggle is far from over.
Gaston County has much to be proud of – we are ahead of many NC localities that are still trying to assess and respond to the crisis. What is critical now is more community involvement and awareness.
Faith leaders can help by opening their doors for community discussions and allowing recovery groups to meet free of cost. There is a real need for more ALANON and NARCANON groups to be formed and facilitated by trained staff. This could be a real asset to the community.
Local schools (public and private) need to formulate or update drug deterrent programs that address the troubling rise in youth addiction and abuse of opiates. Young adults are quickly becoming one of the most vulnerable demographics of opioid abuse.
Finally, all of us can help by talking to our friends and family about the dangers of abusing opiates, discarding and storing medications properly and the rise in heroin addiction. Be aware, educate yourselves, form community watch groups and take care of one another.
Like any other crisis that has come our way , Gaston County can and will rise to the challenge. What will determine the speed at which we gain the upper hand will be equal to the amount our local communities come together to help. This is your community and our challenge. Let’s meet this challenge together. Are you ready?
Robert J Kellogg
Gastonia City Council (Ward 1)