Fighting the opioid crisis: Why numbers mean treatment dollars

“What we don't know is how many of those individuals have overdosed, how many of those are coming back for a second kit, or a third kit which would really help to show how the usage is in our area,” said Michelle Geiser of Hope RX. (Source: WLOS Staff)

Nationwide, 91 people die in opioid overdoses daily, and the CDC says that may even be an underestimate. That's because of missing data, from deaths to overdoses that never make it to the Emergency Department. It's hurting the fight against a dangerous drug here in the mountains.

Local EMS is doing a good job tracking successful outcomes, but it's tough to track everything that might make a difference.

RELATED | Fighting the Opioid Crisis: Inside mountain ER's

Walk into any mountain pharmacy and you can buy a dose of Naloxone, the drug used to treat an opioid overdose in an emergency. What we don't know is how many people have it or why.

“What we don't know is how many of those individuals have overdosed, how many of those are coming back for a second kit, or a third kit, which would really help to show how the usage is in our area,” Michelle Geiser of Hope RX said.

For an admitted numbers geek like Geiser, it's a fatal flaw in fighting the drug and understanding opioid abuse in western North Carolina, from the pharmacy to the emergency room.

“Right now, there are a tremendous amount of overdose, and a lot of our law enforcement and EMT's are being sent to the same homes three times a week, and we need to understand why that's happening and where that's happening and the best way the community can respond so that stops occurring,” Geiser said.

Meaning, a need for better overdose data, but who should collect it? 911 dispatchers?

“They have so much information that they are capturing and trying to keep someone on the line and making sure that we get responders out where they are needed,” Geiser said.

How about the emergency room?

“Is there time to check that box, and then who is it that's going to be responsible for making sure that that data is captured,” Geiser said.

Pharmaceutical companies?

“How many prescriptions are being filled in this county, and how many individuals are taking that Naloxone back home with them and how often it's being utilized?” Geiser questioned.

Even police don't check a box indicating a heroin overdose, costing communities’ treatment dollars because knowing the extent of the problem can help fight it. Most forms simply automatically fill in a "no" to drugs present, even on overdose cases. Asheville Police said they’re working with officers right now to better train them to ensure the right boxes on incident forms are checked, but even then, the forms might not go far enough. To get overdose information on what drug ultimately led to an overdose, you have to read through the entire narrative, and that’s not always public information.

“We're using this data that is from our local communities to reach back out and receive federal dollars,” Geiser said.

It's money Hope RX puts back into prevention, including programs for students to agree to be substance free and more recovery options outside the emergency room.

“Some sort of safe living room, some sort of safe, sober facility, where we could offer referrals, places to come for meetings,” Julie Huneycutt, the founder of Hope RX, said.

Right now, an addict’s ability to get treatment, short of an emergency department, means a wait of an average of weeks. That's time Sherry Abbot's son, Seth, didn't have.

“It's like someone's taking a hammer and beating him with it, and they get nauseous and vomit and diarrhea, the whole nine yards,” Abbot said.

Seth Morgan's mom and stepfather watched Seth detox twice in their home because he couldn't get into a treatment facility. Now they're warning others how addicts can work the system, and the incentives used to entice addicts to certain rehabs. Their battle to help their son fight his addiction is better detailed in a story you can find here.

If you're looking for a Methadone Clinics in Western North Carolina and other resources here are a few links:

Substance Abuse Resources through NC 211

United Way for more help -- Want more information? Give us a call at (828) 252-4357.

Western Carolina Treatment Center
573 Merrimon Avenue
Suite 1B
Asheville, N.C. 28804
(828) 251-1478

Mountain Area Recovery Center
18 Wedgefield Drive
Asheville, N.C. 28806
(828) 252-8748

Crossroads Treatment Center of Asheville
6 Roberts Road
Asheville, N.C. 28803
(828) 505-3086

NC DHHS Substance Abuse Help

The Steady Collective

Sunrise Community Center

ADT Healthcare is a free helpline for people affected by drug and alcohol addiction. The service is particularly helpful for family members affected by a loved one's addiction.

Website: Tel: 0800 088 66 86

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