Home Local News OPIOID EPIDEMIC: Naloxone doses up; Richmond County tops state in overdose rate

OPIOID EPIDEMIC: Naloxone doses up; Richmond County tops state in overdose rate

Naloxone is a medication that reverses an opioid overdose. Photo by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — The amount of naloxone administered in Richmond County has steadily increased throughout the year.

According to data from the Drug Endangered Family Task Force, first responders used 63.5 mg on 15 overdose patients during the month of May.

(Disclosure: this writer is a media representative on the task force.)

Of those 15 patients, six received multiple doses and six were taken to a hospital — however, it is unclear if those were the same people.

Patients in May ranged in age from 20-64, with six in their 20s and seven in their 30s.

FirstHealth EMS Director Buddy Williams said many of those receiving naloxone are repeat patients. He added that most of the overdoses have been in the Rockingham area and one was in Ellerbe.

Williams also said that there were no known accidental deaths associated with narcotics.

Although the amount of naloxone is increasing, the number of patients is remaining relatively steady.

In April, 15 patients — 13 of whom were repeats — received 35 mg. That was down from the 17 patients (five who received multiple doses) administered 40.5 mg in March.

The year started with two patients receiving 12.5 mg in January, followed by nine patients (two repeats) being administered 22 mg.

Note: Some patients were dosed more than once each month. Source: Richmond County Drug Endangered Family Task Force

The average dosage unit of the nasal spray is 2 mg.

Statistics show more than 30 patients were dosed in each May and June of 2021 at 29 mg and 23 mg, respectively — however, the most naloxone (39.5 mg) was administered in December.

These numbers don’t reflect the use of naloxone by families or individuals on the streets.

OVERDOSE INCREASE

According to the N.C. Opioid and Substance Use Action Plan Data Dashboard, Richmond County had 182 emergency department visits due to overdose in 2021 at a rate of 406 per 100,000. That rate is much higher than the state average of 149.9 and is the highest in the state.

While Cumberland County, which is more populated, had 640 visits, its rate was only 190.8.

The two counties with a rate remotely close to Richmond’s were neighboring Montgomery with a rate of 345.9 (94 actual) and Pamlico with a rate of 337.9 (43 actual). Both counties have a lower population than Richmond.

The number has sharply increased over the past several years from 78 in 2018, to 106 in 2019, to 152 in 2020.

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State records show there were also 30 local overdose deaths in 2021.

The number of deaths had dropped in half from 14 in 2015 to seven in each 2018 and 2019. However, OD deaths nearly tripled in 2020 to 27.

The state notes that overdose deaths include those related to all drugs, not just opioids, and includes intentional and unintentional ODs. According to NCDHHS, 90% of the deaths are unintentional.

Among counties with similar populations — 42,000-48,000 — Richmond County’s number of emergency department visits is the highest. However, Stokes County did have one additional death.

Rate is per 100,000 residents. Source: N.C. Opioid and Substance Use Action Plan Data Dashboard

The increase in overdoses coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. State health officials attribute the increase in overdoses to heroin and fentanyl.

The group Steve’s Wings, founded by Melissa Schoonover, is planning its second annual Overdose Awareness Rally. Schoonover is also a member of the task force.

The event is scheduled for 4:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 in Rockingham. Several guest speakers are lined up and there will be a candlelight vigil at the end.

The names of those lost to addiction will be included in a video during the vigil and on a banner for the event. To have a name added, contact Steve’s Wings by July 15 at 910-417-8740.

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.