GREENSBORO — Guilford County's robust response to the opioids epidemic took center stage Friday at the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners' annual conference.
Emergency Services Director Jim Albright told an audience of government officials from across the state about the origins of Guilford's collaborative effort with UNCG's department of social work, a joint initiative called GCSTOP — Guilford County Solution to The Opioid Problem.
The three-day conference for county commissioners and administrators statewide began Thursday at Grandover Resort & Conference Center and wraps up with a banquet Saturday evening.
Started in March 2018, GCSTOP is credited with playing a role in reducing the number of deaths in Guilford County from suspected opioid overdoses compared to the previous year. They dropped from 104 in 2017 to 91 last year.
But Albright said Friday that county emergency crews still respond to more than 1,000 overdose calls a year, using Narcan and other opioid-reversing medications to revive people.
"In fact, we were working two reversals right now as I walked into the Grandover," he said.
The countywide program that was the focus of Friday's presentation broke new ground reaching out to substance abusers after county EMS teams have revived them from such opiates as hydrocodone, oxycodone and heroin.
"They wake up. They're in full-blown withdrawal. It's not a pleasant experience," said Melissa Floyd-Pickard, chair of UNCG's department of social work that helps to staff GCSTOP teams.
Within days of their recovery, overdose survivors are contacted by GCSTOP response teams that include UNCG social workers, other specialists and law enforcement officials. The team assesses the person's chances for overdosing again and tries to help in other ways, including suggesting treatment options if the person is willing.
But they also offer such "harm reduction" tactics as a syringe exchange program that helps those who reject treatment to ward off diseases linked to their continued drug abuse.
Others who spoke Friday about GCSTOP included program manager Chase Holleman, a former opioid user who works directly with overdose survivors, and Randy Abbott, a Greensboro resident whose 24-year-old daughter died four years ago from an overdose.
GCSTOP representatives do not try to intimidate or shame substance abusers into kicking their addiction, Holleman said: "People can find their own solutions, we just empower them to do so."
Abbott said that after his daughter Vanessa's death, he dedicated his life to eradicating the scourge of opiates.
"I will fight heroin for the rest of my life," said Abbott, now national volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit SAFE Project that assists such collaborative initiatives as GCSTOP.