BOLIVIA, NC (WECT) - Ten members of the Brunswick County Substance Use and Addiction Commission gathered Thursday for their first meeting in the Health Services Boardroom.
The commission first elected Captain Stephen Lanier with the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office as the chairperson.
“I think the meeting was very successful,” said Lanier. “We've got a lot of minds on all ends of the addiction and substance use world. We have a lot of great ideas on things we can do to help the community."
In defining what drugs and substances the committee would direct its focus, Lanier said that heroin and other opioids are at the forefront, and other committee members said that addictions to other drugs including alcohol, sex, and food are also serious issues.
Members include representatives from the sheriff’s office, school board, an addiction treatment center, a utility company, local churches, the health department, and more. A pharmacist and a person recovering from addiction are also on the commission.
Each person introduced themselves to the other committee members, and it became clear that the professionals not only had connections in their work to addiction and substance abuse, but also in their personal lives.
Catherine Cooke, Vice Chair of the Brunswick County School Board, said that she grew up in an alcoholic home. She has friends that have lost children to drug addiction and wants schools to become a place where kids are safe from potential drug problems at home.
“Friends that I have that are my age are raising their grandchildren,” said Cooke. “A lot of people are raising their grandchildren now, because their children or other family members have addiction problems, so when those children go to school, that’s really their safety zone, because they’re coming out of an environment that’s probably not healthy.”
Cris Harrelson, Brunswick County Health Director, said he is a former user of drugs and alcohol and has family members that are dealing with addictions.
Goals that the committee voiced interest in tackling include fighting stigma, educating the public, preparing monthly updates for county commissioners, having a media report for how volunteers can help, beginning plans for a recovery party event or concert, starting a cost-benefit analysis of recovery versus addiction, and investigating future funding sources.
A common thread was that the group agreed to not just hold meetings and discuss, but to take action. They spoke about the important role that faith-based communities, including churches, play in connecting people to recovery
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office’s Anchor Initiative was brought up several times, where a person can get immediate help in starting the addiction recovery process from a deputy.
"One of the ideas that we had from a couple of the commission members is to have some kind of sober party or sober event, something that people could come to just have a celebration, and that's something that we are looking at helping to get done in the next 90 to 120 days,” said Lanier.
Several committee members also expressed serious concerns that Brunswick County does not have a detox facility where people can go in the first step in recovering from drug addiction.
“We don’t have a dedicated detox facility here in the county, and that’s something I think is desperately needed,” said Lanier.
The committee also acknowledged the difficulty in paying for treatment services and finding employment while recovering from addiction.
Another topic of discussion was harm reduction and needle exchange programs, which generated a difference of opinions about whether increasing them in Brunswick County would help people suffering from addiction.
The committee plans to start an email chain and will meet again in January.
“Community was the big word," said Cooke. "That’s what we all talked about today was the community. Where it’s not just the school community or the family, but the church community as well, the faith community., coming together to make people aware and to try and get rid of the stigma that surrounds drug abuse, mental health.”