County health update: A case of good news, bad news

Prescription pill abuse, asthma, obesity among top local issues

By Kevin Spradlin

ROCKINGHAM — It’s a case of bad news, good news and more bad news when it comes to this year’s State of the County Health Report.

Tommy Jarrell, county health director, presented the biannual report to the Board of Richmond County Commissioners during a public meeting Monday night in Rockingham. The same information was presented to members of the Richmond County Health and Human Services Advisory Board last month.

Kevin Spradlin | Tommy Jarrell, county health director, reads from the 2014 State of the County Health Report on Monday at a public meeting with the Richmond County commissioners.

Kevin Spradlin |
Tommy Jarrell, county health director, reads from the 2014 State of the County Health Report on Monday at a public meeting with the Richmond County commissioners.

Jarrell identified prescription pill abuse as a top medical issue in Richmond County, noting there had been a 300 percent increase in the number of deaths from opioids across North Carolina since 1999 due to prescription pill abuse.

“There are now more deaths from prescription pills than from cocaine and heroin combined,” Jarrell said.

According to the report, “if this trend continues in  North Carolina, unintentional deaths by opioid analgesics will surpass deaths by motor vehicles in 2017. It now ranks as the second-leading cause of unintentional deaths in NC.”

In 2013, there were 134,344 prescriptions written in Richmond County for patients — up from 131,908 in 2012. The county has an estimated population of 46,405 people.

“The number of prescriptions for controlled substance written in Richmond County could supply the entire 2013 (county) population with 2.89 prescriptions each,” according to the report.

“Again, it’s not just a county problem,” Jarrell said. “It’s a national problem. We are addressing that pretty strongly in the county.”

He said a grant funded drop boxes at the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, the Rockingham Police Department and the Hamlet Police Department in which residents could dispose of unwanted, unused or expired medication without consequence. It’s better than the pills being flushed down the toilet and better, Jarrell said, than the pills ending up on the street for sale.

“The number of people who are taking these drugs … a lot of people need them, but there’s a lot of abuse as well,” Jarrell said. “We are addressing that pretty strongly in the county.”

Commissioner Ben Moss asked Jarrell if Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. was to get a copy of the report. Jared said that local law enforcement agencies “are working diligently” on the problem.

Jarrell also spoke of the North Carolina Controlled Substances Reporting System, asubstance abuse registry that can help doctors determine if a patient is simply a pill-seeker. The downside to the registry, he said, is that it’s not as robust as, for example, South Carolina’s registry. Across the border, that state’s registry takes into consideration surrounding states’ data. For a border county like Richmond, that’s important.

“North Carolina has some work to do,” Jarrell said. “There are tools to see if a patient has received similar prescriptions” elsewhere.

Teen pregnancy rate drops

In 2012, the teen pregnancy rate (among 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19) was 59.9 down from a 2011 rate of 90.3 per 1,000. In 2013, the rate dropped further, to 50.4.

“This decline shifted Richmond County’s ranking amongst the 100 counties in the state from a number 1 in 2011 to 9 in 2012 to 19 in 2013,” according to the report.”

Commissioner Thad Ussery said it’s an issue that “I think we need to ring our bell a little louder” on.

Jarrell said there has been “a lot of effort by a lot of different individuals” that have helped to make the rate decrease so significantly, including the “Baby Think It Over” awareness programs for county seventh-graders.

“We’re moving in the correct direction,” he said.

 New program to help curb asthma emergencies

Fifteen local families are part of a pilot program intended to help decrease the number of trips to the emergency department, and the number of hospitalizations, for asthma-related issues.

Some of these visits and hospitalizations, Jarrell said, “could have been prevented if there’d been more education.”

The families were selected after an asthma patient was discharged from the hospital or patient services.

Richmond County ranked significantly higher than its peer counties of Anson, Bladen, Montgomery, Pasquotank, Scotland and Vance for the five-year span from 2007 to 2011 for emergency department visits and hospital inpatient stays related to a primary diagnosis of asthma, the report said.

The ongoing pilot program was originally to have been funded by the state Department of Public Health Section/Chronic Disease and Injury/Asthma.

“Unfortunately, the anticipated funding was not received and the program was discontinued,” according to the report. Jarrell, however, was able to sure funding to provide the program here.

 ‘Slight inroads’ against childhood obesity

The 2014 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps study, completed by Wisconsin University through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that Richmond County ranked 90th among North Carolina’s 100 counties for health outcomes. The county ranked 77th of 100 for health behaviors such as obesity and lack of physical activity that contribute to poor health outcomes.

Many unhealthy behaviors begin in childhood. The Richmond County Health Department and the county’s seven elementary schools have been studying obesity in children from kindergarten through third grade since the 2004 school year.

During the course of the study, it has been determined that more than 30 percent of children in grades K-3 enrolled in Richmond County Schools are overweight. This data supports the need for Operation Healthy Kids, a program that delivers instruction to new teachers in grades K-3 on nutrition and physical activity, develops newsletters to increase parental involvement and plans, promotes and hosts the annual spring “Wild about Wellness” event for all Richmond County students in grades kindergarten through third.

Local health officials also plan to create a resource guide to identify locations in Richmond County accessible to the public for physical activity. They also plan to promote “Unplug and Play Day” each year.

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  • Bo Frye

    I find this to be a very good report of the past and current conditions of prescription drug abuse in Richmond County. Thank you Mr. Jarrell. I stated that this was the number one problem involving crime in both of my runs for Sheriff. It will continue to be the major problem until someone develops, trains, controls, uses and protects informants according to state and federal Laws and conducts investigations in this part of the drug problem. These cases will not fall into your lap. It takes being proactive and sending these informants into “questionable” medical offices and making sure it is done exactly as the Law allows to develop good cases for the District Attorney to prosecute and convict. It would involve staking out some offices to watch the line form after hours and at odd times. Also sending informants to “questionable” pharmacies to see if prescription pill counts are shorted on the count and those pills go out another door for money, sex or blackmail. It would involve knowing the “pill bosses” that buy prescriptions from 20 to 30 patients every month or three months and then selling these pills on the street. Then you would have to develop information about people who might frequent border states like Arizona or Texas that would bring in large quantities of illegal pills from Mexico. Richmond County has a reputation from near and far for getting pills easily. The federal regulators have reduced some of the prescription pill problem locally in the last two years. Getting a handle on the pill problem will also reduce the number of larcenies and break-ins that plague the county. Any reduction might mean that another Mother and Father will not have to bury a child because of abusing a pill. What you allow will continue!

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