Finding a Way: Bringing Awareness to the Opioid Crisis in Avery County

Published Thursday, June 7, 2018 at 2:12 pm

Editor’s Note: This is a brief preview of a story in the upcoming June edition of High Country Magazine. 

By Nathan Ham

Hardly a day goes by without turning the television on or picking up a newspaper and reading about yet another string of opiate-related deaths, statistics or heartbreaking stories of drug abuse and family destruction.

In Avery County, the Kiwanis Club and Rotary Club are coming together to sponsor a special information session on June 12 at the Best Western Mountain Lodge in Banner Elk, in hopes of making the community aware of the opioid problems in Avery County and what can be done about it.

Food will be available beginning at 11:30 a.m. followed by speaker introductions beginning at noon. The cost is $5 and those interested in attending have to register for the event by speaking with a Rotary or Kiwanis Club member.

The panel of speakers will include Dr. Charlie Baker, a well-known physician in Avery County, Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye, District Attorney Seth Banks, Kelly Icenhour, the Director of Child Protective Services at the Avery County Department of Social Services and Rep. Josh Dobson, who represents District 85 (Avery, McDowell, Mitchell counties) in the North Carolina House of Representatives.

While this is a step in the right direction, it’s the next step that event organizer and Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk’s Jubilee Chairman Jim Swinkola would like to see happen in Avery County.

“We recognize that this is only 90 minutes to get some food and go through the panel, but we’re hoping that this will set the stage for somebody else to pick up the obvious next step of once the awareness is increased, what do we do about it,” said Swinkola.

Swinkola says that they also are hoping to have a recovering addict from the county who will speak and share first-hand experiences on the constant battle with an opioid addiction.

The event will include group discussions at each table, led by “table captains” that will facilitate these discussions. Some of the table captains will include mental health experts from Daymark Recovery Services and the panel participants.

Across the nation, this opioid crisis has taken hold in almost every small town and large city, no matter the population size, race, ethnicity or gender. Prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl have become such a destructive force.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, drug overdose deaths have increased by 440 percent from 1999 through 2016. The NCDHHS keeps updates each month on the number of drug overdose visits to hospitals and emergency rooms. According to their statistics, there have been 1,756 emergency room visits throughout the state from an opioid overdose in the first four months of 2018. The number has risen each year since 2010. At this time last year, there had been 1,642 emergency room visits. 

In Avery County, there has been at least one opioid-related drug death each year since 1999, whether it was accidental or intentional. 54 percent of the deaths have been male while 46 percent have been female.

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