BRUNSWICK COUNTY—The fastest growing county in the state has a hep-C and suicide problem.
In the county’s recently released State of the County Health Report, Brunswick is identified as having the second highest cases of hepatitis C in the state. From 2015 to 2016, the number of reported cases doubled.
Suicides are also on the rise in the growing county with limited mental health outlets.
A bloodborne pathogen, hepatitis C is a liver infection that is commonly caused by sharing needles. The infection has no vaccination and can often go decades without being diagnosed.
“Cases are often underreported and underestimated,” the report states.
Brunswick County Health Services’ health educator Allison Campbell said the age of the county’s resident could be a contributing factor to the rising rates of hep-C. With the 30 percent of the county’s population being 65 and over, Campbell said it was likely a large baby boomer population, matched with the opioid crisis, could have contributed to the increasing numbers.
“We don’t completely understand why people born 1945 to 1965 have hepatitis C but we think it’s because most baby boomers became infected from the 60s to the 80s when it was at its highest transmission rate,” Campbell said.
During the infection’s highest transmission rates, Campbell said infection protocol and medical procedures did not screen for hep-C. “It could have been from medical equipment, nowadays we have different rules and procedures for infection protocol,” she said.
The county offers free testing to boomers born between 1945 and 1965, are infected with HIV or that have a history of injection drug use. Since 2016, 63 residents have been treated by North Carolina State University’s lab after meeting testing criteria.
The report points to heroin use as a contributing factor of the county’s increasing rates, which are six times higher than 2012 reported findings.
“Our population is definitely being affected by the opioid epidemic,” Campbell said.
From 2012 to 2016, there were 22.6 unintentional medication and drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, nearly twice the state’s average, according to North Carolina Health and Human Services.
The county’s health report states the rising number of unintentional overdose deaths contributes to its high death rate from unintentional injuries.
Unintentional injuries are a substantial contributor to premature deaths in Brunswick County,” the report states. “Accidental poisoning deaths resulting from the use, misuse, or abuse of illicit and prescription on opioids continue to rise.”
In order to combat an already identified problem, Campbell said the county offers a number of free programs to help alleviate rising overdoses. Secure drop-boxes are located at several locations where residents can dispose of prescriptions.
“Anyone can take unwanted, unused or expired medications to those medication disposal boxes to dispose of them properly to get them out of the community,” Campbell said.
The county also offers free medication lock boxes at the Health Services Department to prevent children under the age of 18 from accessing prescriptions.
According to the report, the county’s suicide rate was also identified as a health priority. Suicide rates in Brunswick County are increasing, at 15.6 per 100,000 in 2016. The state’s average was 12.7 and New Hanover County’s was 14.7 in 2016.
Campbell identified the lack of mental health providers in the county as a potentially related factor to the high suicide rate. Last year, there were an estimated 1,310 residents for every mental health provider in Brunswick. In New Hanover County, there was a mental health provider for every 290 residents. The state’s average ratio of mental health providers to residents was 490 to 1 last year.
Through the county’s partnership with Trillium, Campbell wrote Brunswick has plans to decrease the resident to mental health provider ratio.
Read the full report below.
Johanna Ferebee can be reached at email@example.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter