The devastation of the opioid crisis has not spared our community, sadly. The statewide statistics are sobering. Opioid overdose deaths outstrip those from auto accidents, and in the 18-year span between 1999 and 2017, 13,169 state residents have died from unintentional overdoses, with a 32% increase in deaths just between 2016 and 2017. This is an especially appropriate time to talk about this issue, because International Overdose Awareness Day is August 31st.
What does this translate to for healthcare facilities? Unintentional opioid overdoses sent an average of nearly 125 people a week to the Emergency Department in North Carolina, just in 2017.
Readers who are struggling with opioids themselves or concerned about family members or friends should know that whether you live in Yancey or Mitchell County, the Vaya Health Access Center offers a mobile help line that you can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their specialists can help you connect to a crisis provider who can address your specific needs. You can reach them by calling 800-849-6127, or for TTY, contact NC Relay at 711 if you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired. If you already have a provider; it is best to contact them first, since they are already familiar with you.
Mobile crisis teams are also accessible 24 hours a day in Yancey and Mitchell counties. Professional counselors come to you, since it has been found that crisis intervention often goes better when it is performed in the home. This service is provided by RHA Health Services at 888-573-1006 and the average response time is two hours.
You can also visit a walk-in crisis center. No appointment is necessary, and you can get a crisis assessment done and be referred to additional services you may need. The crisis center for Yancey County is run by RHA Health Services. It is located at 72 Blue Ridge Lane in Burnsville and their phone number is 828-682-2111. In Mitchell County, the crisis center is at 129 Skyview Circle in Spruce Pine. They can be reached by phone at 828-765-0894. Both facilities are open Monday through Friday, from 8am to 5pm.
NARCAN® (naloxone) is also available in both Yancey and Mitchell counties. This is the indicated lifesaving medication that is used in emergency situations that can reverse an opioid overdose. The Toe River Health Department has NARCAN available for Avery and Mitchell Counties, while Yancey County has a paramedic program that provides county residents, within 72 hours of an opioid misuse event, NARCAN, education, and information about additional services to access.
BRRH also hosts regular medication take back events, when community members can safely and anonymously dispose of unused or expired prescription medications. The next one is our Crush the Crisis event scheduled at 78 Broad Street in Spruce Pine, on October 29. We partner with the Spruce Pine Police Department and the Mitchell-Yancey Substance Abuse Task Force to hold these important community take back days, which rid us of pounds of medications.
There are also four permanent drug drop off locations in our area where you can dispose of prescription medication anytime. It’s important, if possible, to deposit the medication in its original labeled bottle for medication identification purposes, but be sure to obscure personal information, like your name, with a black marker before disposal. The four drug drop boxes are at the following locations:
- Yancey County Sheriff’s Office, Main Entrance
4 East Main St, Burnsville
Drop off hours: 24 hours a day, seven days a week
- Burnsville Town Hall
2 Town Square, Burnsville
Drop off hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm
- Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office, Main Entrance
63 Crimson Laurel Way, #8, Bakersville
Drop off hours: Monday through Friday, 8am-7pm
- Spruce Pine Police Department
193 Valley Rd, Spruce Pine
Drop off hours: 8am-5pm
Another helpful resource for families and individuals is SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal government entity that is part of the National Institutes for Health (NIH). They spearhead public health initiatives that address mental health issues on the national level, as well as work to lessen the devastating toll that substance abuse has on our communities.
The Mitchell/Yancey Substance Abuse Task Force  is another local organization that is working to combat the opioid crisis through many channels, from physician education and programs for at-risk youth, to free medication lockboxes.
They work in conjunction with EMS to treat people medically who are dealing with opioid misuse, and our Emergency Department is equipped to provide treatment in case of emergency.
If we stay aware of this problem and talk to our primary care providers or anyone in the position of prescribing medication to us, we can ask the right questions about appropriate usage guidelines, and whether a medication is safe to use.
It is my hope that this country, and our own region, can witness a downturn in opioid addiction and overdose deaths as soon as possible. We are committed to doing our part to help overdose patients, and to collaborating with other organizations and services to assist those in need.
Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Hale is a proven leader with more than 35 years of progressive healthcare experience. A native of East Tennessee, she holds an associate’s degree in nursing from Walters State Community College, a baccalaureate degree in nursing from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree in organizational management from Tusculum University, and a doctor of nursing practice degree in executive leadership from East Tennessee State University. Ms. Hale is currently a resident of Burnsville.