Tuesday, 31 August 2021 21:10

OPIOID EPIDEMIC: Richmond County overdose victims remembered

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A garden of purple and silver pinwheels sits near the entrance to the Richmond County Department of Social Services to remember the 167 residents who died of overdoses in 2020. A garden of purple and silver pinwheels sits near the entrance to the Richmond County Department of Social Services to remember the 167 residents who died of overdoses in 2020. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — One hundred and sixty-seven purple and silver pinwheels spin in the breeze and shimmer in the sunlight in front of the Richmond County Department of Social Services.

A banner hanging overhead indicates that each pinwheel represents a Richmond County resident who had an overdose in 2020.

The pinwheel garden is one of several across the region as the Sandhills Opioid Response Consortium remembers those in Richmond, Moore, Hoke, Montgomery and Lee counties for Overdose Awareness Day.

There are two pinwheel gardens in Richmond County; the other is at FirstHealth Richmond EMS.

According to a press release from FirstHealth, Overdose Awareness day “is the world’s largest annual campaign to end drug overdose, remember without stigma those who have died and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.” 

Within the five-county region, there were 949 overdoses.

Citing statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FirstHealth reported there have been nearly 814,000 overdose deaths across the country since 1999 — more than 70% of which were opioid related.

For Overdose Awareness Day, Social Services and Health Department staff wore purple in honor of those who lost their lives to drug addiction, as well as those still battling, according to Theressa Smith, coordinator of the Richmond County Drug Endangered Family Task Force. The Health Department also posted a nearly six-minute video from the group Steve's Wings featuring names and photos of overdose victims.

“We’re trying to raise awareness in our community to the opioid crisis and what’s going on here, directly in Richmond County,” Smith said. “We do a lot of data collection and, from that, it helps us to figure out what direction we want to put our resources.”

The task force also tries to educate the community by giving out information at events.

The DEFT page on the county website features statistics including substance-affected infants, overdoses, and the administering of naloxone.

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Opioid Action Plan Data Dashboard, the number of opioid-related deaths in Richmond County spiked at 11 in 2015 at a rate of 24.2 — higher than the state average of 10.5.

The state’s metrics include deaths caused by prescription opioids, heroin and other synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

The county’s Opioid Dashboard shows that nine of the overdose deaths in 2015, the most that year, were from commonly prescribed opioid medications. However, heroin or other synthetic narcotics topped the list with six in 2019.

Prescription opioids accounted for the most overdose deaths from 2010-2017, except for in 2016, when they tied with heroin and cocaine at three each.

In 2020, there were 76 opioid overdose emergency department visits in Richmond County, among the highest in the state, according to DHHS.

Looking at the county’s 2019 overdose deaths statistics:

  • Men account for nearly 60%
  • Whites account for more than 70%
  • Those aged 35-44 account for around 60%

During the first seven months of the year, there were 64 overdose emergency department visits — compared to 58 during the same time period in 2020, according to the Injury and Violence Prevention Branch of NCDETECT, due to the following causes:

  • 37 - unspecified narcotics (opiate or narcotic related)
  • 17 - heroin
  • 9 - commonly prescribed opioids
  • 1 - fentanyl/fentanyl analogs

As of June 18, the Hamlet Police Department had responded to 45 suspected overdoses since July 20, 2019. Three ODs since April of 2020 had been fatal.

In Rockingham, police responded to at least 49 overdose calls in the first six months of this year. Six of those resulted in death.

The Richmond Observer is working to get statistics from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

County data from this year show 34 patients were dosed with naloxone in May and 35 in June, more than double the number of the previous or subsequent months.

Smith said the task force also gives out bags for residents to safely dispose of unused medication, which are available at several funeral homes and pharmacies as well as the divisions within Social Services.

There are also dropboxes at each of the county’s three law enforcement offices.

“We don’t want them just laying around where someone can get their hands on them and take medicines that they shouldn’t … that aren’t prescribed to them,” Smith said. “We’re trying to help educate the community about how important it is to dispose of these medications appropriately.”

For more information on local statistics, visit: https://www.richmondnc.com/517/Reports

CORRECTION: The pinwheels represent the number of overdoses. Not all overdoses resulted in death. 2:03 p.m. 9-2-21.

Last modified on Thursday, 02 September 2021 14:25