Members of the Robeson County Drug Treatment Court team at their most recent graduation ceremony. Various case workers, lawyers, judges, representatitves from healthcare agencies and members of the District Attorney’s office make up the the team. PN Photo/Zachary C. Young
By Zachary C. Young, Editor-in-Chief
It is Friday afternoon and Edward is discharged from his opioid treatment facility for breaking the facility’s no marijuana rule. Upon discharge, Edward and a friend decide to get high on heroin. Edward reportedly did twice the amount of his friend. Edward overdosed in the shower on Saturday. When first responders got to him, he was dead.
In 2021 Robeson County had 650 opioid overdoses, including nonlethal overdoses. The main culprit in this en- demic is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
In 2020, 51 overdoses resulted in deaths. This gave Robeson County a 64.35 overdose death rate.
Of those 650 overdoses, 75% were minorities in Robeson County, includ- ing Native Americans accounting for 55% of overdoses. Adults aged 25 to 34 accounted for 34% of all overdoses in the county.
According to the NC Department of Human Health Services, 2.5 out of 10 residents 12 years of age or older will experience opioid misuse.
Robeson and surrounding counties such as Scotland County offer a variety of services to combat opioid abuse.
These range from outpatient services, inpatient services, drug treatment court, mental health services, counseling and even similar partnerships with organizations in Charlotte, such as Charlotte Rescue Mission.
Delita Chavis, director of Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Services at Regional Health Authority in Scotland County is in recovery herself and feels her past has helped mold her into an effective counselor. 20 years sober, Chavis has helped others combat their substance abuse for 18 years.
“It is an honor for someone to sit down and tell you all their hurts and pains. For somebody to say here is my pain, can you help package it up? Can you help fix me,” Chavis said.
Chavis says as a counselor you become a trusted member in that community.
With a unique story herself, Chavis faced various charges during her time using drugs to include drug charges, maintaining a drug dwelling and prostitution. Chavis recalls one of her experiences serving jail time.
“I had been in jail for like 4 months and my grandmother died while I was in jail. She raised me and I wasn’t even able to go to her funeral,” Chavis said holding back tears.
“I believe in the component of hope, and I believe in therapy. I know it works because it worked for me. It’s a WE deal, it’s not a ME deal. That support of we can do this is always betterthan I can do this,” Chavis said.
Because of their honesty and dedi- cation once they see the program working, Chavis calls her patients “God in disguise.”
Local Treatment Options
Often mental illness accompanies substance abuse. Patients may suffer from substance abuse, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, and a variety of other disorders.
This can make it difficult to treat a patient, but Chavis says RHA Health Services can “treat the whole person,” calling RHA a “one-stop shop,” where patients can get therapy and have a counselor treat all their disorders in one setting.
When a patient has two or more disorders this is called cooccurring disorders, often referred to as comorbidity.
Patients of RHA Health Services are given treatment plans that are unique to them and catego- rize their individual needs.
This categorization serves as a triage of their symptoms, treating the most dominant symptom first.
Chavis says one thing RHA lacks is a detoxification unit, detox being something a patient needs before they can be treated at RHA.
Chavis also suggests that suboxone be used in lieu of methadone.
Patients of RHA must qualify for suboxone, but the most they can receive is 8mg.
Chavis says she has seen success with suboxone when the patient’s treatment plan has the motive of tapering them off.
Chavis referred to the counseling that is paired with the suboxone taper- ing, saying a lot of people don’t want to participate in it. RHA counsels three times a week, two hours a day, totaling six hours of therapy a week.
In time, the ones who remain with the program see significant improvement in their everyday lives. Chavis says this type of paired service has about a 50/50 success rate.
The initial recovery process takes about 18 months, but Chavis says 18 months is a short time when you have battled addiction.
The patient begins to get their life back and are no longer socially with- drawn according to Chavis.
Law Enforcement’s Response
“Whatever you do, stay away from heroin and fentanyl.”
This is what Hollis McNeil told one of his clients after he was kicked out of rehab for disciplinary reasons. Later that evening, his client was dead.
McNeil is a 15-year veteran Deputy with the Robeson County Sheriff’s Of- fice who oversees the LEADS Program in Robeson County.
This is a pre-charge program that focuses on addressing the root cause of addiction rather than punishing the user with prison or jail time.
The program, which originated in May of 2021, is funded by a state grant. In a pre-charge program, the participant has not been charged yet.
McNeil says that is one of the best parts about the program, that there are no guidelines on a person’s previous criminal history.
“I can’t tell you that you can’t get help because you haven’t gotten in trouble enough, or you’ve been in trouble too much, I can’t help you,” McNeil said. He has been with the program for two and a half years and currently has 40 members in the program, with an- other 20 currently waiting to enter. I was new to treatment. In law enforcement we don’t learn treatment and make sure people get help. We know to lock you up, send you to prison or to jail. But since we have been doing this pro- gram, giving them an ultimatum of going to jail/prison, or going to get treatment, a lot of them just need that chance,” McNeil said.
McNeil says a lot of the participants don’t know what the right path is because they have always been on the wrong path. So far McNeil has had three individuals complete and graduate from the program. One has even obtained a HVAC license and is currently working towards their electrical license. The program length is case by case. McNeil considers the quantity, the type of drugs, how much they use in a day and other factors.
McNeil said a lot of participants refer to themselves as having a high tolerance, but McNeil said “it has nothing to do with your tolerance, it has to do with your organs.”
“Usually around a gram or gram and a half of heroin or fentanyl a day, I try to stretch them out as long as I can because at that point their body is about to shut down anyway,” McNeil said.
McNeil says a common misconception is that if someone wanted to be drug free, they would simply stop using. He says every participant wants help, but whether or not they can handle the weight of that help is a different story.
“There is something inside of them that says I want this drug, I got to have this drug. If they could stop cold turkey they would. Its like a diabetic has to have insulin. It’s a forever thing; same thing with treatment. They are always going to be in treatment in some form or fashion. When the community grasps that, we can clean it up. It’s a sickness,” McNeil said.
McNeil said he sometimes feels law enforcement has it all wrong and their tactics sometimes breed a repetitive cycle of criminal activity and drug usage, and he feels as if LEADS helps stop the repetitiveness and is helping reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse. LEADS is reducing the stigma of substance abuse in the county. Users don’t have to pay for services and are provided transportation. They just have to say they want help. Once they are in treatment, McNeil says participants call him at least once a week, even if it is just to ask him to check on their home or family.
McNeil says he feels that is his job to provide that level of support.
Opioids on the Political Front
State Senator Danny Britt has been instrumental in combatting the opioid endemic on the political front. In his first and second sessions as senator, he helped change some of the drug trafficking by possession laws. This was done by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for people who were charged with only trafficking by possession. Britt said these are individuals who are normally users, not distributors.
Britt pushed for funding within the COVID budget to the drug treatment court after the Highway Safety Commission withdrew their promise to fund the treatment portion of the drug treatment court.
Additionally, Britt drafted a bill this past session that expanded Medicaid for those who may normally not be eligible for Medicaid, as long as they were in compliance with a drug treatment court program. This bill was passed unanimously.
“One of the biggest problems we had were folks going through DSS abuse and neglect court being ordered to family drug treatment court not having necessary insurance to seek that treatment out
so they can get into a good place to get their children back and get their life back on track,” Britt said.
This expansion applies to both unwed mothers and men.
Britt mentioned Greater Hope International Church in Lumberton receiving a $10 million grant to open a 41 bedroom, 82-bed inpatient clinic in Parkton on Parkton Tobermory road. McNeil also referred to this inpatient clinic, saying he could fill it up with just the individuals he knows battling the disease of addiction.
The clinic will be called “Hope Alive” and according to Pastor Ron Barnes of Greater Hope Interna- tional Church, the clinic is expected to be functional in August or September.
According to county statistics, Robeson County should have a capacity of 250 beds for men alone who are dealing with addiction. Robeson County has nine beds for men. Most beds in facilities in the county are reserved for women.
Barnes said this will be an inpatient, one-year program, that ranges from detox to the clients’ reintegration into society. Professional mental health services will be the priority, but clients are able to receive spiritual counseling upon request.
With Hope Alive’s staff positions still being determined, Barnes said there will be medical staff, mental health staff, administrative staff and more.
Barnes said the clinic will be “tailored” to the needs of Robeson County, since the culture of the county is unique in comparison to others in the state.
“What we are doing is going around to the various successful programs in the state. We are trying to glean from them the best parts of their programs,” Barnes said. “Robeson County being a county that is a minority-majority county, we have to design a program that will fit the culture of our people and the culture of this county.”
Robeson County residents suffering from drug abuse will be the top-priority for “Giving Hope.” Barnes told local political and law enforcement agencies that if the community does not attempt to combat this issue that “we will lose a generation.”
Some media outlets have expressed skepticism that a religious organization with no history of rehabilitation services was able to secure such a grant.
Britt reassures the naysayers that the church will have the resources and staff needed to help those seeking treatment, saying Robeson Health Care will be lending their medical expertise, along with Our Corp (Southeastern Regional Medical Center is a partner of Our Corp) to support Greater Hope International Church and their rehabilitation center.
“We knew we were going to take some flack because of the situation and not having experience, but it was never our plan for us to do it. Our plan was to partner with those who know how to do it,” Barnes said.
“There is no other faith-based program in the state that has a mandatory partnership with a clinical based partner. There is also no other faith-based facility in the state that has the same reporting requirements and auditing requirements they are going to have either,” Britt said.
They will be required to report and be audited by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Senate Healthcare Committee.
“There’s a lot of federal dollars out there even for folks who aren’t on Medicaid, and now there are
a lot of state dollars to go along with it. There is opportunity there, we just got to take a holistic look and do everything we can to get people’s lives on track and work together as a community to keep finding solutions,” Britt said.
If you or anyone you know needs treatment RHA Health Services can be reached at 910- 277-3212 and you can reach the LEADS program by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org