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LUMBERTON – An increase in the number of drug overdose deaths by more than 30 from 2019 to 2020 coupled with multiple cases of overdose earlier this year has put the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office on alert.
In 2019, the Sheriff’s Office responded to 17 overdose deaths, Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said. There were 51 overdose deaths in Robeson County in 2020. In 2020 MPs responded to 685 overdose calls and saved many lives with Narcan, a drug that can stop or reverse the effects of drugs that lead to an overdose.
In December, Robeson County was among the top 10 counties in the state with 12 visits, a 9.2% rate, with the highest rate of emergency room visits for opioid overdose that month. Robeson was behind Buncombe and Pitt counties, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services. The counties that topped the list in December were Burke with 21 visits and a rate of 23% and Randolph with 23 and 16%.
Opioid overdose visits to hospital emergency rooms across the state rose 23% from 6,694 in 2019 to 8,254 in 2020, according to the NCDHHS.
“I see these 51 overdose deaths in 2020 as murder. A drug dealer who was purposely profitable sold a drug to an addicted person without caring about their welfare, and in many cases it resulted in their death. Now the families of these victims must mourn their loved ones, “Wilkins said in a statement released over the weekend.
Two people were resuscitated by Narcan in the Maxton and Pembroke area on Saturday, Wilkins said. Four people died from apparent overdoses in the past week.
The surge in overdose deaths also affects a county medical examiner.
“As the hospital’s (UNC Health Southeastern) pathologist, the number of overdose deaths in our county has increased dramatically since the COVID pandemic began,” said Dr. Richard Johnson.
Johnson has served as a county medical examiner for 24 years.
“I did about 60 overdose autopsies last year and so far this year, after tomorrow, I will do 11 overdose autopsies by 2021. If this rate continues, our county could approach 100 overdose deaths for the year,” so Johnson said. “One is too many.”
Wilkins attributes the rise in overdoses to drug availability.
“It’s cheaper than buying individual opiate pills and the fact that getting medicines has become a little harder. However, we have a problem with legal prescriptions being sold by the original person who received the prescription at a profit to drug dealers, ”said Wilkins.
The sheriff plans to ask the county officials for more manpower and resources to help combat drug use in the county.
“We currently have over 300 (drug) complaints nationwide and there is no way we can focus on all of them with the staff we have,” he said on Monday.
Every team member in departments like Homicide is busy handling cases and more manpower is required to deal with the high volume of calls.
He needs positions for “at least” four drug investigators, four new patrol MPs and two deputies for the community impact team, Wilkins said. He also plans to ask for a detective position focused only on overdose investigations.
The Sheriff’s Office operates a Drug Enforcement Division that focuses on investigating criminal drug activities.
In December, the Tri-County Community Impact Team task force was formed, made up of the sheriff’s offices in Robeson, Bladen, and Columbus counties. The task force targets drug crimes in each county. It has 15 employees; more resources, like drones, canine officers and their guides; and two helicopters. The members of the task force meet several times a month to set goals and discuss problem areas in the three counties. The task force has the assistance and legal oversight of Robeson’s District Attorney Matt Scott and Jon David, who serves as District Attorney for the Bladen, Brunswick, and Columbus Counties.
The Robeson District Attorney’s Office is working to set up a Drug Treatment Court to help repeat offenders overcome addiction and thereby reduce drug crime.
The district attorney’s office is working to fill the position of drug court coordinator who would oversee the judicial process and work with everyone involved to keep the program running smoothly, said Scott, who hopes the program will have up to 25 participants can operate. runs until March.
The program is funded by a US Department of Justice grant of $ 500,000 that allows the court to operate for three years. The treatment is free for the participants.
Scott described drugs as “an equal opportunity destroyer”. Drugs accept victims from all social, racial and economic backgrounds.
“We see this in our communities, and it’s unhappy and sad,” said the prosecutor.
He hopes the court can help treat addiction by providing support that gives perpetrators the “ability to change their lives.”
There are several agencies in Robeson County that offer drug treatments.
“UNC Health Southeastern (hospital) has a 26-bed unit for the treatment of mental health and drug problems that require inpatient treatment,” said Amanda Crabtree, spokeswoman for UNC Health Southeastern.
Palmer Prevention and Monarch also offer drug treatments.
Palmer Prevention is located at 3460 Capuano Road in Lumberton and can be reached at 910-674-4033.
Monarch’s Lumberton Crisis Center, which provides “Mental Health and Substance Disorder Detoxification and Crisis Stabilization,” is located at 207 W. 29th St. To contact Monarch, call or email 866-272-7826 to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available at https://monarchnc.org.
“I want to assure the residents of Robeson County that their sheriff’s office will not sit idle and do nothing about it. Resources are limited, but we do our best with the resources we have. For this reason, we have set up numerous task forces with the federal government, local authorities and the surrounding districts to provide more resources. The 51 overdose murders of our addicts last year and those that happened earlier this year only make us work harder for you, ”Wilkins said in a statement on Saturday.
The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office is firm in its stance on drug dealers, he said.
“We see you as armed and dangerous. In this case, heroin, opium, and fentanyl are your preferred weapons. This is not a game or a TV show. It’s not over until it’s over and we’ll pick you up, ”Wilkins said.