RALEIGH, NC, Sept 30th, 2016 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture today hosted a roundtable to raise awareness of the rural opioid crisis in North Carolina, discuss the need for additional resources to curb the epidemic, and to collect input from community leaders on how to best target resources. USDA Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Bob R. Etheridge convened the discussion with local officials and partner organizations involved in combating the crisis. Co-sponsoring the event was the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. This event is an extension of the work of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Chair of the White House Rural Council, who is leading an interagency effort at President Obama’s request to address the opioid epidemic and its impact on rural Americans.

White House Rural Council and North Carolina Farm Service Agency Host Opioid Roundtable

Contact:
Nimasheena N. Burns
(919) 875-4857

RALEIGH, NC, Sept 30th, 2016 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture today hosted a roundtable to raise awareness of the rural opioid crisis in North Carolina, discuss the need for additional resources to curb the epidemic, and to collect input from community leaders on how to best target resources. USDA Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Bob R. Etheridge convened the discussion with local officials and partner organizations involved in combating the crisis. Co-sponsoring the event was the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. This event is an extension of the work of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Chair of the White House Rural Council, who is leading an interagency effort at President Obama’s request to address the opioid epidemic and its impact on rural Americans.

Opioid addiction, including heroin and prescription drug misuse, is a fast-growing problem that played a role in more than 28,000 deaths in 2014.

SED Etheridge facilitated the discussion began his remarks with facts about where North Carolina stakes up nationally in the opioid abuse spectrum, “As of this summer, according to independent reports by Castlelight Health, Wilmington, NC ranked number one in the nation for the highest percentage of opioid abuse. North Carolina had three more cities in the top 25, Jacksonville, Hickory and Fayetteville, respectively. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, 44 percent of Americans personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers.”

The opioid crisis disproportionately affects rural communities, in part due to the lack of outreach and treatment resources available in remote areas. Over the past nine months, Vilsack has visited regions of the country that have been hit hard by opioid addiction to host a series of White House Rural Council town halls to hear from local leaders fighting the epidemic on the ground and discuss possible solutions. Today’s event was a continuation of that effort.

Sheriff Moose Butler echoed the sentiments of opioid addiction being a real issue in Fayetteville with his opening remarks to the group. He stated, “In 2013, Cape Fear Valley Hospital had 1 death due to an opioid overdose and last year that number was 125.”

Donnie Varnell, a retired SBI agent who is now policing coordinator for the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, educated the audience on their partnership with Fayetteville through the LEAD program. The program seeks to divert drug addicts, prostitutes and other low-level criminals from prosecution into treatment, housing, education and job-training programs. According to Varnell, addicts are 60 percent less likely to face a future arrest.

Mayor Chris V. Rey, of Spring Lake and Executive Director of Cumberland Healthnet, enlightened the crowd on the real worries that citizens have when dropping off prescriptions at local law enforcement agencies and pharmacist as well as the stigmas associated with them.

Dr. Penny Shelton made a real impact with her solutions oriented suggestions around pharmacist and physicians working together to curb the epidemic.

Participants at the roundtable held today at the Cumberland County Sheriff Trainings Center included Jeff Eschmeyer, Vilsack’s senior policy advisor, as well as the following:

  • Honorable Judge Lou Olivera – Presiding Judge, Stars Drug Treatment Court, Cumberland County, NC
  • Honorable Robert Stiehl – Chief District Court Judge, Cumberland County
  • Chief Deputy Sheriff Ennis Wright – Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office
  • Mayor Chris V. Rey – Mayor Town of Spring Lake and Executive Director of Cumberland Healthnet
  • Tribal Chief Harvey Godwin, Jr. – Lumbee Tribe
  • Dean John M. Kauffman Jr – Dean and Chief Academic Officer, Campbell University Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Ann Hamlin – Forensic Science Manager of Drug Chemistry, State Crime Lab
  • Donnie Varnell – ¬Policing Coordinator, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), Retired SAC, SBI, Drug Diversion
  • Dr. Sam Fleishman – Chief Medical Officer, Cape Fear Valley Hospital System
  • Dr. Penny Shelton – Executive Director, North Carolina Association of Pharmacists

Throughout his administration, President Obama has made clear that addressing this epidemic is a priority and has highlighted tools that are effective in reducing drug use and overdose, like evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, prescription drug take-back events, medication-assisted treatment, and the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The President submitted a budget proposal and continues to call on Congress to provide $1.1 billion in new funding to help every American with an opioid use disorder who wants treatment get the help they need. Oregon would be eligible for up to $11 million over two years to expand access to treatment. While Congress recently passed legislation to address the epidemic, it did not include any funding that would expand resources.

USDA will also place posters about addiction resources from the Centers for Disease Control in all of its local offices. USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and Natural Resources Conservation Service offices serve thousands of Americans across the country, and for many people in rural communities this may be the only face-to-face interaction they have with the federal government. USDA’s offices can play an important role in raising awareness about the issue and helping people connect with resources.

USDA has taken a number of steps to use its resources to help battle the epidemic. In March, Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA’s Rural Health and Safety Education Grant Program could be used for communities to conduct drug addiction awareness efforts. USDA Rural Development’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program has helped hospitals in rural communities use telemedicine to better treat individuals struggling with addiction, and the Community Facilities Program has enabled rural areas to build treatment and recovery facilities. In August, the Secretary announced that USDA was leveraging its rural housing program to provide more housing for individuals in recovery. More information on USDA’s response to the opioid epidemic can be found at www.usda.gov/opioids.

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