ROCKINGHAM COUNTY — Between January and August, Rockingham County emergency rooms saw 46% more opioid overdose cases than during the same time in 2019, according to a report by Injury Free N.C.
The organization, a collaborative between the University of North Carolina's Injury Prevention Research Center and the North Carolina Division of Public Health, analyzes health risks by county.
Indeed, data showed 92 people were admitted to hospitals here during the nine month span, compared to 63 patients last year.
Perhaps just as alarming are overdose statistics brought forth by Rockingham County Manager Lance Metzler during a recent county public service broadcast.
Since January, 200 people here have overdosed on opiates, Metzler said. A look back at 2013’s opioid overdose rate of just 21 illustrates the 10-fold hike in this rural county of nearly 91,000 residents.
Information about how many of the 200 individuals may have died was unavailable at press time. Opioids claimed the lives of 14 people in the county between January and August of 2019, records show.
Metzler said the county is working hard to address the epidemic that has ravaged the nation for several years.
“We’ve hired a staff person to … oversee the development of strategies to combat the opioid epidemic,’’ Metzler said. “This type of epidemic does not discriminate. It goes over all boundaries. The average age ... of deaths that we’ve had in the county is 47.''
The county is now focusing on plans for additional detox centers and public health programs that can help addicts break their perilous cycle, Metzler said during the broadcast.
Concurrent stressors from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as isolation, job cuts, and health fears, only add to the problem of addiction, experts say.
Lives can unravel rapidly in a perfect storm of stress. And highly addictive and popular opioid drugs, such as Oxycontin and Fentanyl, can become a deadly outlet.
There are plenty of reminders of just that along Rockingham County’s thoroughfares.
Amid campaign posters studding the roadsides are scores of signs that advertise Suboxone and Methadone in bright red letters as treatments for opioid addiction.
But the county has only one 5,000-square -foot treatment facility, ALEF Behavioral Health Group in Eden, which opened in October 2019.
“Many North Carolinians living in rural communities struggle to access opioid use disorder treatment due to a lack of providers and insurance funding for treatment,” said Kody H. Kinsley, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health & Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in a recent NCDHHS news release.
Addiction to opiates, also termed “opioid use disorder,’’ is a chronic disease that has surged over the past decade all over North Carolina. The scourge has devastated rural areas like Rockingham particularly hard.
Between 2013 and 2017, in fact, opioid overdose deaths in rural N.C. communities skyrocketed by 130%, according to NCDHHS statistics.
A grim computation shows more than five North Carolinians die each day from unintentional opioid overdoses, state health officials estimate.
Rockingham Countians are particularly vulnerable to heightened addiction problems, factoring in predisposing socieconomic conditions.
Already crippled by a lack of access to treatment facilities and health care providers, the county has a high number of uninsured and underinsured residents.
Roughly 10,000 Rockingham Countians are living without health insurance and in need of Medicaid coverage.
For the past six years, however, the state legislature has voted to block federal dollars that would make the expansion of Medicaid eligibility possible.
With the sixth-highest number of uninsured residents in the nation, North Carolina could extend coverage to some 500,000 North Carolinians through Medicaid expansion, according to estimates from the North Carolina Justice Center.
Beyond that, such expansion could help in mitigating opiate overdoses in North Carolina, which in 2017 ranked second nationally for overdose deaths, according to the NCJC.
In Rockingham County alone, such Medicaid eligibility expansion would mean coverage for 4,408 residents, as well as about $19 million in savings from uncompensated care for hospitals, according to the North Carolina Rural Institute in Chapel Hill.
Domestic violence has not increased with opiate abuse hike
Often, when drug problems in a region escalate, rates of domestic violence and child abuse follow, national public health statistics show.
Luckily, Rockingham County has seen a slight downturn in domestic violence cases this year, with 24 reported so far, compared to 35 during the same timeframe in 2019, according to data from Sgt. Kevin Suthard, public information officer for the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office.
Child abuse cases here have been negligible for the last two years, with three reported between January and August 2019, and two recorded during the same time this year, statistics showed.
Meanwhile, the nation will likely struggle with as much as a 20% increase in intimate partner violence, or IPV, this year, according to projections by the United Nations Population Fund.
Such projections are based on the theory that social isolation and living in close quarters during the pandemic, along with high tension due to fear and economic woes, will spark such violence.
And Rockingham County knows economic hardship as the county struggles with a 9% unemployment rate, two points above the state average.
As pandemic layoffs intensified in April, the county’s unemployment rate reached an all-time high of 15.5%.
For information on opioid addiction, contact the Rockingham County Department of Health and Human Services webpage at or the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services at:
Contact Susie C. Spear at email@example.com, (336) 349-4331, ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.