“Opioids are it right now,” Atack said. “Heroin is back with a vengeance, as well as the pain medications, the actual synthetic opioids.”
To combat the problem, the medical community is prescribing fewer opioid painkillers, Castillo said. However, fewer prescription medications mean that more addicts are turning to heroin as a more accessible alternative.
“If they have been using the pills for a long time and they can’t get them anymore — maybe the doctor stopped prescribing them or it got too expensive — they switch over to heroin, which is why we see that rising,” Castillo said.
Under the North Carolina Good Samaritan law, if a drug overdose is reported, the person in the overdosed state and the person who made the call cannot be charged for possession of narcotics, Atack said.
“We’re not in the business of going out and really being investigative about the drug stuff because under state law if you call, you’re immune,” he said. “And that’s key — we don’t want people to be scared to call and someone die as a result of that.”
In order to safely dispose of unwanted prescription medications, drug drop boxes are located at the Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough Police Departments and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
“This pulls stuff out of the community that could be abused and disposes of it,” Atack said. “We actually incinerate it, so it’s environmentally destroyed as opposed to flushing it, where it can get into the water supply.”
Lt. Andy Simmons, spokesperson for the Hillsborough Police Department, said their drug drop box has been extremely successful.
“Our drug drop box gets used on a daily basis, multiple times a day, so you have old prescription drugs, old opioids — it’s constantly filling up,” Simmons said.
Communities across the state are working to stop the problem in various ways, but the next major step is addressing rehabilitation for opioid users, Castillo said.
“I think a real effort to increase access to treatment, to increase affordability of treatment and increasing the knowledge of communities of where to go for it and how to look for it is really key to solving this,” Castillo said. “And increasing access to naloxone too, because it saves lives.”
Simmons said education plays a big role in stopping the spread of opioids.
“We need to see the community and law enforcement work together as partners in trying to ensure that more people don’t get involved with the drugs,” Simmons said. “As of right now, there is no perfect solution one way or another.”