GREENSBORO — Opioid abuse continues to tighten its grasp on Guilford County.
Last year, the county saw more than 100 deaths related to opioids, according to Guilford County EMS. In another 700 instances, opioid overdoses were caught in time to be “reversed,” which is usually done by administering a drug called Narcan. Through February, there have been 173 opioid overdoses in Guilford County, with 12 opioid-related deaths.
On Thursday, officials gathered in Greensboro to announce a possible local solution to the epidemic.
Stakeholders involved with the Guilford County Solution to the Opioid Problem program introduced the initiative on the campus of UNC-Greensboro.
The program, GCSTOP, focuses on following up with people who have overdosed on opioids and are looking for help. Addicts can call GCSTOP to arrange a meeting with someone who can walk them through the process to get treatment or counseling.
Stephen Sills, one of the founders of GCSTOP, said the program is necessary in the fight against opioid addiction because it focuses on getting rid of the stigma that comes with being an addict and strengthens relationships with those who can help.
“In 2018, we want to reduce opioid-related deaths in Guilford County by 20 percent,” said Sills, director of the Center for Housing and Community Studies at UNCG. “It’s an obtainable goal.”
Guilford County lawmakers, UNCG, Cone Health and local law enforcement officials have collaborated in the initiative to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths in the county.
Funding for the program came through bipartisan legislation in the General Assembly sponsored by state Sen. Trudy Wade. Sills said the $250,000 will get the program through the first year and he hopes to receive more funding through grants.
Opioids — including heroin, prescription pills and fentanyl — killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That year, 1,956 of those deaths happened in North Carolina.
GCSTOP is more than another program to Sills. It’s a chance to help his hometown.
A Guilford County native, he has seen the social media posts about old friends who have died of drug overdoses. He has talked to friends who struggle with addiction and who want help.
Now he has the tools to help people find their path away from opioid addiction.
“To reduce overdoses by 20 percent was a stretch but something that would make an impact in the community,” he said.
Chase Holleman knows the issues that come with addiction.
More than five years after his last overdose, Holleman has turned his attention to helping people get the help they want.
Holleman said GCSTOP gives people hope that one day, they will kick the demons that have kept them addicted to opioids. He said people can make the choice on their own to reach out for help.
Inside of the opioid reversal kits the program will give out is Narcan — a drug used to reverse the effects of opioids — instructions on how to use it and a pamphlet with a phone number to a 24-hour hotline to set up an appointment to meet with Holleman.
Callers can set up the meeting wherever they feel most comfortable and someone from the GCSTOP outreach, along with an off-duty Guilford County sheriff’s deputy, will meet with them to assess the person’s safety and come up with the next steps to recovery.
“With this program, we have an opportunity to reach people who aren’t in a crisis,” said Holleman, who added the worst time for an addict to reach out is right after an overdose.
Funding the Fight
Just one call led to the funding for the program.
Jim Albright, director of Guilford County Emergency Services, said the program is very much a street ministry made possible through the work of Wade. Wade initiated a call with Albright and Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeff Phillips to find out how the opioid epidemic was impacting her constituents.
After the call between the three, GCSTOP received $250,000. Albright said the funds are seed money and more sustainable sources will be looked at.
Wade described the program as innovative and said she is excited about the program and looking forward to its results.
“If we can get this going it can serve as a model for other places,” she said.