By: Jim Albright

Jim Albright, Guilford County Emergency Services Director

This week the President declared the opioid crisis in America as an Epidemic.  The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis was chaired by Governor Chris Christie from New Jersey, and also included North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper.  Guilford County has not been immune from the devastating effects of opioids, which includes prescription medications and illicit drugs.  Opioids are a class of drugs that include medications such at Lorcet, Percocet, Dilaudid, Norco, Vicodin, Morphine, Hydrocodone, and Oxycodone ; but also includes illicits such as heroin and fentanyl derivatives. These meds act on the pain receptors in the body and brain to eliminate pain, but in high doses cause central nervous system depression and symptoms including decreased level of consciousness, respiratory depression, and respiratory arrest.

So far this year, Guilford County EMS and our public safety partners from local law enforcement and the fire departments have responded to over 600 overdoses and over 70 deaths.  Despite the awareness of the dangers of opioids, the number of patients continues to increase.  Recently, Guilford County was a awarded a special allocation from the NC General Assembly to address the increasing mortality from opioid overdoses.  We will soon be putting a “Rapid Response Team” in place, modeled after a very successful program in Colerain, Ohio.  After a patient at risk for overdose is identified, a law enforcement officer and “opioid navigator” or recovery coach will contact the patient to educate them on the dangers of opioids, offer harm reduction strategies (such as the narcotic antagonist or antidote naloxone), and provide treatment provider referrals.  This program is being offered as a community collaboration between Guilford County Emergency Services, Guilford County Health Department, Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, Cone Health, the NC HARM Reduction Coalition, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  As the program expands, we will being adding other community partners and expanding the scope of the program.

It is estimated that 80% of heroin users began with prescription medication abuse.  We are attempting to address the stigma of addiction and assist patients in seeking recovery.