You can’t turn on the news or look at social media lately without seeing something about the opioid epidemic – deaths are on the rise nationwide, and Mecklenburg County isn’t immune. Over the last ten years, opioid-related deaths in the County have increased by 134 percent – from 26 in 2005 to 61 in 2015.

So how did we get to this point? And what can we do to stop it?

According to our own Assistant Health Director Connie Mele, opioid addictions began to increase in the late ‘80’s when pain was recognized as the fifth vital sign. (Providers ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10 when they are checked in. Providers also ask for their temperature, blood pressure, pulse and respiration rates).

Opioid examples.

Mele admits that the new attention to pain wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – chronic pain wasn’t being effectively treated before. However, the change in mindset and expectations led to more prescriptions for opioids, which are powerful, addictive, pain relievers. They aren’t necessarily the best medication to treat pain.

In fact, from 1999 to 2014, national sales of prescription opioids almost quadrupled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the reasons opioids are so dangerous is their popularity and availability. But, there are a few things you can do to help.

How can you help with the opioid crisis?

  1. Lock it up. Secure prescription medications in a safe place that only you know about, preferably locked up. Purchase a medication lock box.
  2. No loose pills. Only keep opioids in the bottle provided by your pharmacy.
  3. Always secure after use. After taking your prescribed dose, immediately return the bottle to a safe place.
  4. Keep track of quantities. Know how much of your prescription remains so you know if any have been taken by someone else.
  5. Remove them from your home. Take your unused prescriptions to a medication drop-off box. The County has four sites:
    – Matthews Police Department, 1201 Crews Rd., Matthews.
    – Mint Hill Police Department, 7151 Matthews-Mint Hill Rd., Mint Hill.
    – Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office – Jail North location, 5235 Spector Dr., Charlotte.
    – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department – Main Office, 601 E. Trade St., Charlotte.

Mecklenburg County Opioid Summit

If you want to learn more about the opioid crisis, Mecklenburg County is partnering with Hazelden Betty Ford, US Bank, Anuvia and Cardinal Innovations to host the 2018 Mecklenburg County Opioid Summit Thursday, March 22. The event is sold out, but you can follow the County on Twitter for live updates. For more information about the summit, click here.