EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the second part of a series on the growing problem of drug overdoses in Union County. The first part of the series, focused on the impact of Fentanyl, appeared in the June 18 print edition.
MONROE — The average number of deaths by drug overdose has increased by nearly seven times over the past 13 years in Union County, according to a report obtained from the Union County Sheriff’s Office on Monday (June 20).
Over a five-year span from 2009 through 2013, there were a total of 12 drug-overdose deaths confirmed by the UC Sheriff’s Office; by comparison, Union County endured 14 deaths by drug overdose in 2013, on the heels of 19 reported O.D. deaths in 2020.
During the five-year span from 2017 through 2021, Union County averaged 14 drug-overdose deaths, according to UCSO.
“The UCSO is seeing an increase in overdose related calls for service and deaths linked to the consumption of deadly narcotics,” Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey told The Enquirer-Journal by email in an exclusive correspondence on Monday.
Roughly 55% of drug overdoses nationwide in 2020 and 2021 involved Fentanyl, according to the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse (NCAPDA). Fentanyl is described by NCAPDA as “a potent synthetic opioid manufactured pharmaceutically for severe pain management … it is about 50 times more potent than heroin and 80-100 times stronger than morphine.”
Fentanyl has been deemed a public health hazard that is “contaminating the illicit drug supply,” according to NCAPDA, and is often used to lace prescription pills, heroin, meth, cocaine and MDMA in lethal doses.
“Union County has definitely been impacted by the rise in illicit Fentanyl consumption,” Cathey said. “This issue is being reported nationwide and law enforcement agencies are constantly having to find new ways to rid our communities of these deadly narcotics. Calls for service pertaining to narcotics overdoses in our area have increased year after year. Unfortunately, increased Fentanyl consumption has led to a higher number of user deaths in our area.”
Sheriff Cathey has long been committed to law enforcement, and his first service in Union County dates back to 1974 with the State Highway Patrol. He has been entrusted with the highest levels of security in his career, including U.S. President Gerald Ford, U.S. Senator Robert Dole, N.C. Governors James Holshouser, Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, West Virginia Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Jr. and the Dali Lama, according to unioncountync.gov.
Since December of 2002, Cathey has committed to trying to make Union County as safe as possible, and he’s taken steps to contend with the growing, lethal problem of drug overdose in Union County.
“UCSO deputies are equipped with Naloxone (also known as Narcan) and have been trained on the usage of this product in order to save local lives,” he said. Cathey has also “formed and supports the UCSO’s Narcotics Eradication Team (NET) which is a proactive law enforcement team dedicated to the identification and apprehension of narcotics traffickers in our area. The UCSO also supports local rehabilitation organizations that offer those struggling with substance abuse assistance in their fight to rid themselves of this deadly addiction.
“… This two-pronged approached, apprehending the traffickers (cutting narcotics supply) and offering local rehabilitative assistance, is a sustainable method to lower narcotics overdoses and deaths in our area.”
Cathey has been Sheriff of Union County for nearly two decades, and he’s never gotten used to sharing with family members the loss of their often-youthful loved one to the preventable death of a drug overdose.
“In our experience, local families are devastated when they lose a family member due to the consumption of narcotics,” he said. “Family members often improperly place the blame on themselves and wonder if they could have done more to prevent the death. One of the worst assignments for a UCSO deputy is to be responsible for making death notifications to local families and we are diligently working to prevent as many deaths as possible in our area.”
The Sheriff sees drug addiction as a risk to public health, and the impact is far reaching. He wants law-abiding residents to do their part to help whenever possible. Cathey “encourages anyone in our community with information related to narcotics trafficking to contact their local law enforcement agency and share the information.”
He also wants anyone suffering from drug addiction to take advantage of local resources and programs that are in place to help with recovery. “As a community, we can work together to eradicate our are of these deadly narcotics through credible information sharing and proactive law enforcement efforts,” he said.
DRUG OVERDOSES IN UNION COUNTY
(provided by UC Sheriff’s Office)