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Westernmost Counties Meet In New Effort Against The Opioid Crisis

Lilly Knoepp
Over 200 people attended the 7 county Western North Carolina Community Summit. The event was held at the First Baptist Church in Bryson City.

 For the first time ever, North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties met to discuss how to solve the opioid crisis.  BPR was at the summit in Bryson City.

For Graham County Commissioner Connie Orr, the issue is personal. Her son has been battling addiction since he was prescribed Vicodin at 15 years old. He’s now 51. 

“From that time until now my son has been fighting the addiction of opiates which has moved not only to opiates but to heroin, meth or any drug that is available right now,” says Orr. 

The goal of the summit was to bring together local government agencies with substance abuse professionals to create action plans, explains Kay McConnell from Renew Bryson City.

McConnell is from Florida and she has been working in drug counseling for almost 40 years. She helped found Renew Bryson City last year which works to educate families about substance abuse. She worked to organize the event with nonprofit Recovery Alliance Initiative. 

The Chapel Hill based organization held a substance abuse summit in Haywood County last November but they noticed attendance was low from the western part of the state - one of the areas hit hardest by the opioid epidemic. 

That’s when McConnell started working with them to put together this summit. 

“We just thought if we can bring seven counties together to work across the lines, across the board and bring out brains together than we can do wonders and you know plan so that is what we are trying to do today,” says McConnell. 

Statistics show Western North Carolina with higher rates of drug and opioid overdose deaths, as well infants hospitalized with withdrawals than the rest of the state. Some of this issue can be traced to the fact that more pills are distributed in the region, but fewer pills might not translate to fewer deaths. When opioids become harder to find, drug addicts can turn to other stimulants like meth and heroin, explained presenters. 

Greg Christopher has been sheriff of Haywood County for over 6 years. He says Haywood was the first county in the state to provide the overdose medicine Narcan for every officer on patrol. He estimates they use it about 4 times per day.

“Everything that we do, we have to do in a partnership with somebody else. It’s not just law enforcement that is going to take away this drug problem. We are not going to arrest our way out of this,” says Christopher, who helped organize the event.

The over 200 attendees at the summit from Macon, Jackson, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Swain and Cherorkee counties created 20 action plans to solve issues ranging from prevention to education and recovery.