High Opioid Overdose Death Rate in Craven County and Its Economic Impacts

On November 12, 1996, Greg Singleton was excited, but scared to death.

He knew he had paid his debt to the company, but wondered if the company would see it that way, if someone would give him a second chance.

It was the day he was released from prison after five years in prison on a drug conspiracy charge.

“I was excited, but I was scared. I was excited, but sometimes I felt defeated, ”said Singleton, who is now a project manager for the Craven-Pamlico Reentry Council and the Craven Community College Workforce Development Program.

When he arrived in Craven County, he applied for five entry-level positions and got none, even with a psychology degree and three years of law school.

He knew that checking that box would remove him from the application process. His personal experience is why his work in providing resources to people re-entering the workforce is so important.

“There was no back-to-school advice, there was no resource who met me at the door and said ‘call this organization they will help you make the transition’,” said Singleton. “There was nothing. Nothing. And that’s what made it scary.

Opioid overdose death rate in Craven County is almost double the state average and affects everyone

In 2019, the unintentional overdose death rate in Craven County was 35.2 and 28.2 in 2018, according to the NCDHHS Opioid Action Plan data dashboard.

In North Carolina, the rate was 17.2 in 2019 and 16.5 in 2018. This places Craven County in the highest percentage of opioid overdose deaths in the state and the numbers estimated since. 2019 doesn’t look much better.

The statistic includes prescribed opioids, heroin and synthetic narcotics such as fentanyl and is calculated per 100,000 population.

Research by Princeton economist Alan Krueger on the correlation between opioid use and declining labor force participation shows Craven County in the highest percentage.

“Addiction issues are definitely a huge problem and they are the worst right now in my 40 odd odd years in the system,” said Major David McFadyen of the Craven County Sheriff’s Department.

In recent years, heroin and heroin containing fentanyl – an extremely deadly substance with a high death rate – have presented the biggest problems in Craven County. McFadyen said they would occasionally see a spike in methamphetamine or cocaine associated with fentanyl.

When restrictions were placed on prescribed oxy-type drugs, people who had become addicted turned to heroin and part of the reason it became such a big problem.

“Once a person becomes addicted in our community, it is very difficult to get community treatment. There are very few residential opportunities here, so to go to rehab you have to travel miles. We are looking to unify the resources of the community, ”said McFadyen.

Mayor Dana Outlaw said New Bern is partnering with government agencies and supporting local nonprofits that are fighting the problem, but that is a work in progress.

“We are always looking for new opportunities to try to improve the lives of all of our citizens,” Outlaw said. “A person who uses drugs is a New Bern citizen like everyone else.”

On average, each overdose death costs the U.S. economy $ 800,000 in lost income and productivity, and that number is rising as victims get younger, according to a report from Altarum, a research and advisory group in health.

The financial burden of the opioid crisis falls on individuals through lost wages, the private sector through lost productivity and increased health care costs and levels of government through lost tax revenues and more spending. high in social services, education and criminal justice.

The economic cost of the opioid crisis in the United States has totaled more than $ 1 trillion since 2001, according to the same report, and that cost falls on everyone in a community.

“The costs between these different categories are spread across all parts of society – individuals, households, the private sector and even state government budgets and federal government budgets equally,” said Corwin Rhyan, senior analyst. of healthcare at Altarum. “… It is so important for us to view this epidemic from a societal perspective, and it will hopefully require investments from federal and state governments, as well as the private sector and business to realize that it impacts our workers, our workforce and our local economies. “

People with an opioid use disorder are less likely to have a job, or less likely to work to their full potential. Then a loss of life results in a lack of contribution to the community’s economic growth, Rhyan said.

The second largest component of the cost burden is health care costs: emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and the indirect costs of associated illnesses. Additional costs to local and state governments arise from additional spending on law enforcement and the legal system as well as family and child support programs.

Rhyan said local businesses that are proactive and willing to be part of the solution would go a long way in helping a community cope with the crisis. Federal funds and support at the community level are also needed.

“This reintegration work contributes to public safety, it helps reduce the collateral costs of incarceration, and we convert unemployed people into employees, making them taxpayers,” Singleton said. “

Two community organizations are working to alleviate the problem, “the sick trying to be well and not the bad guys trying to be well”

“Pain,” said Ken Johnstin, director of Hope Recovery Homes, when asked why most addicts choose to recover. He took the program nine years ago after battling alcoholism and said it had saved him and allowed him to enjoy life with a bit of peace and serenity.

“We have a saying here, people move at the speed of pain. If you don’t suffer enough, you probably won’t want to change enough, ”added Gene McLendon, founder of Hope Mission Ministries and Hope Recovery Homes. “When you’re in pain enough, that’s when you start making changes in your life. “

Hope Recovery Homes provides housing for addicts in 26 counties in eastern North Carolina. People come there through drug rehab centers, hospitals, or the Carteret County or Craven jail and stay there for about six months.

The first 90 days focus on teaching program participants self-discipline and a better lifestyle, while in the next 90 days, which have a 37% completion rate, they are expected to have a work and plan for their future. McLendon said the need for their services does not appear to be diminishing and he has noticed that more and more young members of the program are those who are battling opioids.

Craven County Jail recently became involved in their Friday Jail ministry, which is currently held at Carteret County Jail. Hope Recovery Homes is working with representatives from the Craven County Sheriff’s Department to have their own program at the Craven County Jail and is excited to see where the partnership is going.

They examine a person’s experience and background and help them partner with employers in related fields, or help them learn new skills at community colleges.

“When you are sick, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually from drug addiction, it is not easy to get up, to straighten up, to find a job and to put your life in place, but you have people. who care about you, who understand what you’re going through and are able to help, ”McLendon said.

The Craven-Pamlico Reentry Council hosts a monthly job training camp, in partnership with Religious Community Services and Craven Community College, which has resulted in 39% of students returning from prison or prison finding employment .

The bootcamp walks participants through six stages, from basic computer skills, learning how to talk about their crime, to employable skills. They also have a scholarship that will pay for academic activities that a person might want to pursue.

To get involved in the program, a person can call Craven County Community College or visit the Craven-Pamlico Reentry Council website.

“It’s a community responsibility to make sure that we continue to support those who return to society, because that’s what made a difference to me in my life,” Singleton said. “If we could turn one person around, we had just saved our county. “


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