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UA joins fight against opioid crisis in Union County

Did you know: From 1999 to 2016, more than 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid-related overdoses – that’s an increase of 800 percent.

This epidemic is devastating families and communities, overwhelming medical providers and straining prevention and treatment efforts. And it’s impacting people from every walk of life, every race, background, education and income level. In Union County, overdose deaths rose by 100 percent from 2005-2015.

We need to work together to fight this problem. That’s why Union Academy partnered with the Union County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and Union County Public Schools to host a series of Safe Schools Initiative Meetings. We appreciate everyone who turned out to our meeting on March 13. If you didn’t make it, please try to attend another session. There are meetings on April 10 at Forest Hills High School and May 17 at Porter Ridge High School.

Most addicts start by using prescription medications, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. These medications are prescribed for pain control after surgery or to treat chronic pain. Unfortunately, these prescription medications can lead to abuse and addiction.

Teenagers and young adults are at high risk of opioid addiction. They may access opioids after minor surgery – anything from wisdom tooth removal to setting a broken bone – and feel the need for more pills after the prescription runs out. Others steal pills prescribed for family members, not recognizing that just a few tablets can lead to addiction.

Opiates enter the brain through the bloodstream, creating a flood of artificial endorphins and dopamine — the neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of reward, pleasure and satisfaction. This creates a rush of happiness and feeling of euphoria – and the only way a person can experience it again is by using the drug again. Over time, the drug may not work as effectively, which means people take higher doses. This can lead to unintentional deadly overdoses; a high cost for addicts’ families and all of us. According to CDC estimates, the cost of unintentional opioid-related overdose deaths in N.C. totaled $1.3 billion in 2015.

More recently, deaths caused by heroin and fentanyl are increasing. That’s because heroin is easy to find and cheap – cheaper than prescription medications. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, today's typical heroin addict starts using at 23, is more likely to live in the affluent suburbs and was likely unwittingly led to heroin through painkillers prescribed by his or her doctor.

In fact, in 2015, Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte spent time trying to better understand the patients who were coming into detox for heroin. What they found were police officers, lawyers, nurses and ministers who came from some of the best neighborhoods in the area.

Most of them shared a common story: "We used to take pills, but now we inject heroin."

Click here to find out more about opioid addiction, including the signs to watch for and how to fight opioid addiction.