COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - People living in Columbus County are prescribed more opioids than any other county in the state of North Carolina with an average of more than 140 pills per resident in 2016, according to a database maintained by North Carolina Health and Human Services.
The next closest county is Richmond County with 132 pills per resident. The majority of counties average under 120 pills per resident.
The health director for Columbus County said that while the ranking is a surprise, the issues of opioids are still in citizens' minds. In a 2015 health assessment, substance abuse ranked as the third largest concern among citizens.
"If you have opioids you are taking at home, make sure no one else can get their hands on them," Columbus County Health Director Kim Smith said. "Lock them up. Go through your medicine cabinet. If you aren't taking them anymore and don't need them anymore, take them to the drop boxes that we have in the county."
In Columbus County, secure pill drop boxes are available in Chadbourn, Tabor City, Whiteville and at the sheriff's office.
The numbers of opioid pills per resident have been on the rise for most counties in North Carolina. However, since 2011 when numbers were first collected by the state, Columbus County has consistently had the highest pill per resident ratio at 108. There are just under 57,000 people living in the county.
Sgt. Detective Aaron Herring with the Whiteville Police Department said officers have seen an increase in use and misuse in recent years. He echoed the use of the secure collection spots to avoid danger with becoming a target for those seeking pills.
"It rids your home of anything in your cabinets that's unwanted," Herring said.
Elsewhere in southeastern North Carolina, Bladen County averages a little more than 101 pills per resident, Brunswick County has 93.1 pills per resident, Pender County has just under 80 pills resident and New Hanover averages a little under 70 pills per resident.
You can check out the state database here.