April 30, 2019

Talk with TaJ; Opioid Addiction in Chatham County, NC on the Chatham County Round-Up

Today, my guest in Zach Horner of the Chatham News+Record. We will discuss the rising opioid addiction in Chatham County, NC

General Overview

  • County library hosting events on the effect of the opioid crisis
  • In 2017: 6 opioid overdose deaths. In first half of 2018: 5 opioid overdose deaths. All in Chatham. Most related to fentanyl.
  • County says they “don’t have a really good sense of the rate of abuse in the county.” Sheriff says data “gets spread out into other counties” due to hospitals.
  • Prescription and overdose rates lower than surrounding areas and state.


  • When opioids get cracked down on, which is a good thing, people need something to kill the pain.
  • Heroin the next step, law enforcement concerned about high rate of use in surrounding areas.
  • Heroin is made from morphine, provides a much stronger pain relief and euphoria. NIH says Oxycontin and Vicodin provide similar effects.
  • Nearly 80 percent of Americans using heroin (including those in treatment) reported misusing prescription opioids first. (https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin) - National Institutes of Health
  • Mike Roberson: “We have heroin here, but it’s not to the extent it could be if we don’t get on this issue. This is a cascade of problems that we’re looking to solve.”


  • Community Assessment: 17% of Chatham high schoolers reported “ever taking prescription pain medicine without a doctor’s prescription or differently than how a doctor told them to use it in 2017, up from 11% in 2014.”
  • Pair of parents going out and talking to schools and groups about their sons - great story, great activism.
  • Joint concern about benzodiazepines, or benzos - Xanax, Valium. Legitimate prescriptions for anxiety, insomnia, muscle relaxer, etc. Death and serious illness rarely result from benzo abuse alone, but when taken with alcohol or other meds, can be fatal. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/benzodiazepine-abuse#1
  • 30-plus % of overdoses involving opioids also involved Benzes. Biggest concern for Chatham County Schools.
  • School district official: “A lot of kids are hearing about Xanax from TV shows, commercials. But it’s been overshadowed by the opioid epidemic. Withdrawal from benzoes is actually more dangerous.”

What To Do

  • Officials: Education and awareness the best first step.
  • Educate yourself. Read the series in the Chatham News + Record (shameless self-plug) and listen to those who have been there and those who are helping.
  • Consider the medicine you’re taking and be smart. Dispose of medicines that you’re not using so they don’t fall into the wrong hands. Law enforcement offices have drop-off boxes.
  • Kill the stigma. Health Director Layton Long said, “It’s people that you go to church with, people that you work with. Good people get in circumstances that get out of control. It’s not a moral failing. It’s a disease.”

The Problem of Pain

  • Report from two doctors in the Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America journal called “The Psychology of Pain.” Report says the emotional response to pain uses the same neural centers as social rejection.
  • “Chronic opioid use, particularly in high doses, can produce a condition of enhanced pain sensitivity. Patients dependent on daily doses feel worse when the medication wears off, and closer to baseline levels of pain temporarily when they take it, even though the overall pain condition fails to improve. These patients may see opioids as necessary for survival.”
  • So fascinating to me because it’s not just a physical thing, but a psychological thing.
  • Mental health often paired with substance abuse. Something to watch.