GREENSBORO — Calling the number of opioid deaths “staggering,” Deputy Chief James Hinson on Saturday opened the Greensboro Police Department’s second community symposium on the opioid issue.
About a dozen people attended the session at the Lewis Community Recreation Center where officials shared statistics and information on efforts police and the medical community are taking to combat the epidemic. The symposium was the second in a series, with another scheduled in three months.
Hinson noted in his opening remarks that so far this year eight people in Greensboro have died from opioid overdoses. And the city’s first responders have been called to 68 overdoses, an average of more than one a day, he said. Last year, 63 people in the city died from overdoses, just one fewer than 2017.
Police officers were joined by Dr. Imran Haq from Horizon Internal Medicine and Greensboro resident James Rosa, a former addict who shared his personal testimony.
During his remarks, Lt. Dan Moore noted that 80 percent of addicts start out using prescription drugs, and prescription opioid users are twice as likely to become addicted after fives doses. Economics plays a role as well, he said, as doses of prescription opioids have a higher street value than heroin. Moore also said statistics indicate that 70 percent of addicts relapse. He cited efforts like the NC STOP Act, which limits the number of days opioids can be prescribed for acute pain, as a way to help curb the chances of addiction.
Capt. Mike Terry noted that Greensboro police don’t stack charges on users who have overdosed. Officers follow up with them to check on their well-being, give referrals for treatment and ask how they obtained the drugs.
Haq, the keynote speaker, talked about the origin of opioids and heroin and described their effects. He said the drugs are highly addictive because of how they work on the nervous system and pain receptors in the brain. Tolerance builds up, requiring more of the drug to get the feeling of euphoria and create a “high.” Conversely, the increase in the amount also significantly slows breathing and leads to hypoxia, which can result in death.
“The first step (to recovery) is to have an honest conversation about opioid use with your doctor,” Haq said.
Rosa talked about his journey through addiction and recovery. His first experience was with alcohol at age 7, followed soon after by marijuana, he told listeners. He was using crack cocaine by 16.
“You are always chasing that first high,” Rosa said. “When I found crack, I thought I found heaven.”
Rosa said drugs were always around his house when he was a child, and when his mother had him collect empty containers of alcohol to put in the trash, he would tilt them up to his mouth to get the last drops.
Rosa, who said he was abused as a child, said he was “trying to escape” his reality. He said he found a recovery program that worked for him, and has been sober for 24 years and three months.
“There is hope after dope.”