By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is currently constructing the Snowbird Residential Treatment Center and is in the planning and design phases for a Crisis Stabilization Unit at the old Cherokee Indian Hospital building – all in an effort to get a handle on an ever-growing substance abuse problem in this area. Now, the Tribe is part of a new group that is aimed at working on solutions to the problem for the region.
The Western North Carolina Substance Use Alliance formed officially on Jan. 31 as “a collaboration to reduce the prevalence of alcohol and drug misuse, as well as the number of fatal overdoses, in 23 western North Carolina counties”, information from the group states.
Doug Trantham, Cherokee Indian Hospital director of behavioral health services, has been named to the Steering Committee. “We hope this project results in concrete recommendations for state and federal policymakers to consider to reduce the overuse of opiate medication, reduce the prevalence and impact of opiate dependence, and prevent overdose deaths. I have a particular interest in implementing alternative treatments for individuals experience chronic pain.”
The Alliance was organized by Vaya Health and includes area counties such as Swain, Jackson, Graham, Cherokee, and Macon along with 18 others.
“Our region is experiencing an epidemic of opioid addiction, as well as misuse of other substances,” Brian Ingraham, Vaya Health chief executive officer, said in a statement. “By bringing together some of western North Carolina’s most dedicated, knowledgeable individuals and agencies, this Alliance will allow us to build on each other’s efforts and make a greater impact as a team than we can acting separately.”
According to information from the Alliance, the problem is dire in this area. “In 2014, 17 of 23 western N.C. counties ranked among the top in the state in the rate of fatal overdoses – more than 20 deaths for every 100,000 residents. Statewide data also shows that all but five counties in the region have higher-than-average rates of opioid pills prescribed per person, particularly in counties near the Tennessee border. Macon County topped that list with an average of 258 pills prescribed per resident in 2014, and Swain County prescribers wrote nearly two opioid prescriptions, on average, for each of the county’s 14,000 residents.”
Various sub-committees have been formed within the Alliance including: Safe opioid prescribing and medication-assisted treatment, women and perinatal substance use treatment, adult substance use treatment continuum and crisis services, and child and adolescent treatment continuum and prevention services.
In last year’s report by the U.S. Surgeon General entitled, “Facing Addiction in America”, Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD, states, “Above all, we can never forget that the faces of substance use disorders are real people. They are a beloved family member, a friend, a colleague, and ourselves. Despite the significant work that remains ahead of us, there are reasons to be hopeful.”