[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series on the impact of heroin and opioid use on Stokes County. Please see future editions of The Stokes News for more coverage of this issue]
Stokes County Sheriff Mike Marshall and EMS Director Greg Collins say they have seen worrisome increases in heroin and opioid use in the county in recent years.
“It is an epidemic,” said Collins. “It goes across all socio-economic lines. It is in every family, every community. Poor, rich, middle class it is there, whether anybody wants to admit it or not. It goes across all the lines.”
Marshall said his deputies responded to 86 overdose calls in 2014, 79 in 2015 and had already responded to 11 by the end of February in 2016.
He said his department was working to try to combat the growing problem, noting that increases in usage in the county was also leading to increased break-ins and thefts.
“Heroin can be snorted, ingested or shot up,” he said, adding that the use of needles presented a special problem for his deputies. “It is making it dangerous for officers to deal with individuals. There is always the fear of communicable diseases and officers have to use more caution when searching someone because of the fear of being stuck by a needle.
“Most of our recent break-ins are drug related,” he said. “If they are not looking for drugs in the house, then they are looking for a way to get money to purchase drugs with. They want anything they can move quick to get that fix.”
He said the number of heroin or opioid related cases had doubled or tripled in the county in the last two years.
“This is partly due to the crack down on prescription pain pills, they are harder to get than before and the prices are higher,” said Marshall. “Heroin is a lot cheaper and easier to get which means people are switching.”
Collins said his department had also seen a major increase in call volume, especially for behavioral health issues which he said were usually related to drugs or alcohol, in the past couple of years.
“We have seen multiple deaths in this county where they think they know what they are doing and then end up with an unintentional overdose,” said Collins. “It happens very frequently. Sometimes you never know if it is intentional or if they just pushed the limit too far and quit breathing and died.”
As a result, Collins said all EMS personnel now carry a drug called Naloxone, also known as Narcan, which helps revive overdose patients.
Marshall said all of his deputies were also being trained in the use of the drug and would soon be equipped with it as well, but both Marshall and Collins warned that users should not count on first responders being able to save them if they overdosed.
“Narcan does help and will bind with the receptors and help you start breathing again,” said Collins, “but there could be other things that go along with that and you could still die. It is like playing Russian roulette with a gun with five bullets in it.”
“Just because we have Narcan does not mean you can go out there and do heroin and we will be able to save your life,” agreed Marshall. “If you overdose, there is no guarantee what we will be able to get to you in time.”
He said most of the heroin in the county is coming from the surrounding counties, especially Forsyth County.
“There are a lot of cases of people coming up here to deal,” said Marshall. “They meet to sell in parks and store parking lots. People don’t like us doing busts in parks but it makes the public aware that it is there. That is where it is happening at. It is very easy to say that we are a safe county and everything is okay, but it is not. If your family is going to the park , you need to be aware that there could be people dealing drugs there.”
He said his office is focused on bringing charges against dealers to eliminate the supply, but noted that he also encouraged jailing users for their own benefit.
“I want them to get the help they need, but I want to see them locked up rather than to be out there overdosing and possibly going to a cemetery,” he said. “If they are in jail you know they are not getting the drugs and are getting medical treatment.”
He said both his office and EMS work with CenterPoint and Daymark to help users get a variety of counseling and encouraged anyone who suspected a family member may be using to seek help.
“You will be able to tell when someone is on heroin because they will usually have some withdrawal symptoms,” he said. “They usually go through everything they have before they start taking from their family. Then they start stealing.
“If someone sees the signs then they should call mental health and go ahead and get someone involved,” said Marshall. “A lot of times if you can get them into some form of treatment you can help them before it gets too bad.”
“Parents need to talk to their children about the risk involved with drugs,” agreed Collins, noting that use can lead to any number of issues including death. “The worst part is when you have to walk into the room and tell a parent that their child is dead, but if a kid gets on it it could take years of rehab for them to get back on the straight and narrow and they may never get there.”
He said people with elderly family members should also be active in working with their loved one’s doctors to make sure prescribed drugs do not lead an addiction.
“They may have a prescription to take two pills for their pain, but then the pain increases and they have to take three,” said Collins. “Then they run out of medicine and have to find them somewhere else, maybe through some illegal way. Some patients end up doctor shopping and getting prescriptions from multiple doctors.
“Talk to their primary physician and make sure they are not taking too much medicine,” he said, noting that no matter the age, finding help for a loved one as soon as possible could save their lives. “If there is a problem, seek help. Don’t wait until it is too late and you have to call a funeral home.”
The CenterPoint Human Services emergency hotline is 1-888-581-9988.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.