Thursday, July 25, 2024

Six questions for Brunswick County’s new Substance Use and Addiction Commission

Brunswick County created a new group, the Substance Use and Addiction Commission, that met for the first time this month. Port City Daily asked the county's health director about what the new Commission plans to accomplish next year.

Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram addresses a string of heroin-related drug arrests in 2016. (Port City Daily/File photo)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY  — Earlier this month, Brunswick County’s newly-formed Substance Use and Addiction Commission met for the first time.

Established by Brunswick County Board of Commissioners in August, the Commission underwent a brief name change — from “substance abuse” to “substance use” — in October.

RELATED: Brunswick Sheriff’s Office launches ‘Offender Watch,’ a new online sex-offender registry

In a state where, last year, a North Carolina Office of the Medical Examiner report found opioid-related deaths had increased by over 130 percent, Brunswick County has a high rate of medication and drug deaths. In 2016, 54 Brunswick County residents died of drug-related overdoses, including 12 people who died as a result of prescription medications.

Also in that year, an average of 90.5 prescription opioid pills were dispensed per person in Brunswick County, one of the highest-ranking counties in the state.

To learn more about this new Commission, Port City Daily asked the county’s health director, Cris Harrelson, what the new group may soon accomplish.

Harrelson’s responses can be found below:

What initiated the small name change?

Brunswick County leadership felt the small change (“substance abuse” to “substance use”)
would more accurately and completely describe the purpose of the Commission and coincide with nomenclature used by national mental health professionals. For instance, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) changed the nomenclature within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from “substance abuse” to “substance use disorder” to account for a wider range of criteria, such as evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria.

It appears the Commission was formed to serve as a centralized group of substance use and addiction organizations in the county. Is that accurate?

Yes. However, we do not want to discourage anyone or any group from furthering their call to action against the scourge of addiction and the many social ills that result. The Commission members would like to invite all citizens with a heart for recovery to attend our meetings and find a way to get involved with recovery efforts.

The opioid crisis has affected the entire nation. What is unique about Brunswick County’s substance use and addiction issue?

Brunswick County (and the southeastern region of North Carolina) is one of the areas of North Carolina that has been affected the most by opioid use. Our county has one of the highest rates of unintentional overdose death caused by both prescription opioids (e.g. oxycodone, hydrocodone) and illegal opioids (heroin, fentanyl). This dubious distinction may be related to the high number of opioid prescriptions written, the high number of multiple provider visits (i.e. “doctor-shopping”), the high number of emergency room visits, and the growing number of IV drug use-related health problems (such as Hepatitis C). With that said, much progress has been made to “turn the tide” by Brunswick County leadership’s increased attention on these problems.

For instance, the Brunswick County Sheriff Office and Brunswick County Emergency Medical Services has equipped all personnel with naloxone, an easily administered synthetic drug that reverses overdoses caused by opioids. State statistics confirm that Brunswick County has one the highest rates for opioid overdose reversals. Also, both the Sheriff’s Office and the Brunswick County court system has been working hard to divert offenders into drug treatment programs for a chance to experience full recovery instead of a repeating cycle of drug use, conviction, and incarceration. Similarly, state statistics confirm that our Brunswick County has one of the highest rates for expanding treatment and recovery programs.

How does the Commission plan to address issues specific to the county?

Currently, we have met as a Commission only one time. Our next meeting is scheduled for
Jan. 3, 2019 during which we will lead a brief strategic planning session. However, some ideas suggested by the Commission members is to use current data to drive any potential actions, pursue input and synergy with the community, work to change the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health issues, focus on treatment and recovery resources within Brunswick County, and host a “Celebrate Recovery” gathering.

What are some tangible goals the Commission has at this time?

We will determine our goals officially at the Jan. 3 meeting during our strategic planning session.

What kind of authority does the Commission have?

The object of the Commission, as set forth under the Brunswick County Board of
Commissioners, is to make advisory recommendations regarding the substance use and
addiction program needs of Brunswick County.

More information on the Substance Use and Addiction Commission can be found on the county’s website, here.

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

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