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WAR ON DRUG LOST: Onslow County Opioid epidemic spirals out of control

50-59-year-olds are the biggest opioid users-7 times more likely to be addicted than people in their early 20s.

St. Louis, Baltimore, and Detroit have couple things in common; one being that the three cities top the charts in murder rate for the country, and the other being that they all have a lower rate of opioid abuse than Jacksonville, NC. Opioids, a term physically used to distinguish prescription drugs from the older term “opiates”, a group of drugs originally derived from opium poppies, includes numerous synthetic and partly synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, oxycodone, Vicodin, codeine, morphine, heroin, and many others. The drugs interact with receptors in the brain and reduce pain and provide euphoria, but the drugs are wickedly addictive, sometimes resulting in measurable signs of dependence after only three days.

Opioid abuse often starts innocently with nothing more than a trip to the doctor. Neck pain, back pain, or even dental surgery can result in an opioid prescription strong enough, and long enough, to brood addiction. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services maintains an online database that doctors can use to identify problem patients: those filling prescriptions at multiple doctor offices. These patients often called “doctor shoppers”, are getting excess prescriptions to abuse themselves or sell on the street. Shockingly, and despite doctors putting more than 11 million pills in Onslow County streets in 2015 and 2016, use of this database remains low and is totally voluntary. By the time a doctor catches on to a patient’s abuse, the user is hooked and has only one way to turn-heroin.

Regular readers can see the increase drug busts and related crimes and it’s not hard to not a bit of an uptick in activity. Sheriff Hans Miller has recently reported a 69% increase in drug investigations stretched from 2014 through the present, claiming that as an indicator of his successful term. But has the increase in investigations kept pace with the rapidly expanding epidemic, or is the Sheriff’s cart in front of his horse?

A 2016 study (based on 2015 data) placed Jacksonville, NC at a number (12) in the nation for opioid abuse and there’s a little sign of improvement since. The numbers from the state back that up. According to NC Department of Health and Human Services, 15 Onslow County residents died from opioid overdoses in 2015.

The following year, 2016, that number skyrocketed to 35 county resident deaths-a shocking 133% increase and the highest in the county’s history. While the numbers for 2017 fatalities have not yet been released, Onslow County isn’t looking good so far. The county reportedly dispensed Narcan-a drug intended to stop opioid effects and prevent related deaths-374 times in 2017 alone. That means there were at least 374 potentially fatal overdoses in Onslow County this past year, a rate of more than one per day.

Between staggering Opioid numbers and record-setting numbers of meth labs, Onslow County leads the state in drug abuse and has turned into cesspool illicit activities. Jacksonville-and more so the surrounding rural areas-have become a place junkies and dealers are safe to call home.

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